How Naturopathic Doctors Treat Sinus Infections

Sinus infections are a common complaint for both adults and children. In fact, it is the most common reason for doctor visits in the US. The main symptoms include: a stuffy nose, post nasal drip, thick yellow to green, offensive smelling discharge from the nose, pain and pressure around the nose, eyes and face, cough, fever, brain fog, and fatigue. Naturopathic doctor, Amy Rothenberg, ND shares what to expect from naturopathic medicine when treating a sinus infection.

When you have a  sinus infection the tissues in the maxillary sinuses become inflamed and swollen, which can also happen with a common cold or from allergies. So how do you tell the difference between a cold and sinus infection? A cold starts as a virus with a runny nose for a few days, followed by a stuffy nose for another few days and then it typically subsides. The mucus will be clear and the whole uncomfortable situation will be done in about 7 days. 

On the other hand, a sinus infection is caused by a build-up of mucus and bacteria that lingers and causes an infection. A small percentage of colds may turn into sinus infections, which is why it’s important to stay hydrated and flush out your sinuses with saline so bacteria doesn’t get trapped and get infected. 

There are recognizable  differences between a cold and sinus infection: duration and fever. Sinus infections last longer than colds (more than 7 days), the mucus is colored green and you may have a fever from the trapped bacterial  infection. 

There are many other causes that may make matters worse including: cigarette smoking and air pollution as well as a deviated septum (a displacement of the wall between the nasal passages), sinus polyps (small benign growths in the area), changes in air pressure (like going up and down in an airplane or scuba diving), ongoing dental issues, and injury to the facial area. Any of these can lead to blockage and build- up of mucus where germs can set up shop and cause infection.

Your sinuses play an important role by reducing the weight of your skull and enhancing the quality of your voice. But mostly your sinuses work to create a just-right amount of moisture to allow the inside of your nose to protect you, by flushing away environmental pollutants, pathogenic organisms, dust, pollen and dirt. 

Sinusitis is commonly treated with antibiotics, in fact, it’s the 5th leading cause of antibiotic prescription in the United States. Sometimes the body will resolve sinus infections over time. However, there are a host of natural medicine approaches to give symptom relief, address the root cause and help prevent further incidence of this debilitating ailment. 

Here are some of the main approaches naturopathic doctors use to help patients with sinusitis. But, first and foremost, your licensed naturopathic doctor will use an individualized treatment plan for you, as each patient with sinusitis presents somewhat differently and treatment approaches are necessarily tailored to the specific patient.

First, naturopathic doctors want to help you establish foundations for optimal health and will prescribe accordingly:

1.   Reduce the refined sugar and fast food in the diet, as they cause many issues including a decreased ability to fight infection[1]. 

2.   Encourage an anti-inflammatory diet which helps cut down on inflammation in general.

3.   Ensure adequate hydration to keep the mucus thinner and to clear away toxins.

4.   Consume adequate soluble fiber in the diet to support daily bowel movements, which is one natural way we remove toxins from our bodies.

5.   Address the microbiome, because when your gut health is both diverse and robust, it helps with overall immune function.

6.   Drink bone broths or a vegan alternative ( with an emphasis on mushrooms and other immune supporting ingredients,) which help to provide micronutrients essential to reversing infection and building healthy mucus membrane throughout the body.

7.   Consider reducing or removing dairy products which cause an increase in mucus production. In addition, studies [2] reveal that many who suffer with sinusitis or nasal polyps have a dairy allergy.

8.   Consider overall food allergy testing to see if some foods, even healthy foods, might be aggravating your condition.

9.   Take the time for daily exercise to help with overall stress reduction which in turn enhances immunity. Exercise is another key component to removing typical metabolic toxins from the body through both perspiration and deep breathing.

10. Examine the main stressors in your life which contribute to poor immune function and disturbed sleep. Take up body mind approaches to address stress, and enhance deep breathing.

11.        Support regular sleep habits which help with overall health and are central to immune system function.

12.        Use a humidifier, especially in your bedroom, to keep the sinus area from becoming too dry. 

How Else Will a Naturopathic Doctor Treat Your Sinus Infection?

It is best to consult with a naturopathic doctor, when trying to get rid of your sinus infection. They have a a full tool kit of natural solutions to draw from to address specific symptoms of sinusitis, including: 

1.   Horseradish, ginger, garlic and onion to help clear the sinuses and support resilient immunity.

2.   Oil of oregano can help clear the sinuses [3]. Use a sink full or pot full of hot water, add a few drops of oil of oregano. Place a large towel over the water and your head to create a tent. Take care to not burn yourself and inhale deeply. This will help fight the infection and clear the sinuses. 

3.   Diluted Grapefruit seed extract also contains antimicrobial features and can be utilized 3-4 times per day as a sinus spray [4]. Check with your naturopathic doctor for dilution ratios. 

4.   The use of a neti pot, or nasal irrigation, helps wash away pathogens has been shown to be an effective addition to treating upper respiratory infections, including sinusitis [5]. You can find a guide to how to use a neti pot online.

5.   Bromelain, an enzyme from pineapple, is beneficial to help keep sinus cavities healthy. It is anti-inflammatory and helps to thin the mucus, making it easier to blow your nose. 

6.   Probiotics and ingesting foods that are cultured and fermented is key to helping with sinusitis [6]. By creating a robust and diverse microbiome you will support healthy immune action.

7.   Research supports, and naturopathic doctors often prescribe other immune raising nutrients such as vitamin C and Zinc, along with N-acetyl cysteine, quercetin, and the botanical medicines, echinacea and astragalus [7].

8.   Another modality naturopathic doctors employ is hydrotherapy. One simple and easy to do at-home hydrotherapy treatment for sinusitis is a hot foot bath. In a seated position, put your feet in hot water either in the bathtub or basin. Use water as hot as you can tolerate without burning yourself. Take 10 minutes or so to relax. A hot foot bath can help draw inflammation and swelling from the head and also improve overall circulation. 

9.   Your ND will also want to make sure that the structural makeup of your spine, neck and skull are not contributing to sinus issues. They may recommend manipulation, massage or other hands-on approaches to address any findings.

Addressing underlying causes of sinusitis is important and working to create a balanced internal environment are worthwhile goals. Using gentle natural medicines to both prevent and address acute or chronic sinusitis is a good place to start. If your sinus infection does not go away or worsens, there is also a time for antibiotic treatment. Your naturopathic doctor can help you navigate your sinusitis treatment. You can find a naturopathic doctor here; many licensed NDs work via telemedicine, making it more accessible to add a naturopathic doctor to your health care team!

This article is provided by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following  initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

Amy Rothenberg ND, DHANP is a contributor to INM and practicing licensed naturopathic doctor in Northampton, Massachusetts. Dr. Rothenberg is the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians 2017 Physician of the Year. Dr. Rothenberg’s writing can be found on, Better Nutrition’s Naturopathic Health Hub, Medium, Thrive Global, andThe Huff Post. She is the proud mother of 3 adult children.

[1] Myles IA. Fast food fever: reviewing the impacts of the Western diet on immunity. Nutr J. 2014 Jun 17;13:61.

[2] Lill C, Loader B, Seemann R, Zumtobel M, Brunner M, Heiduschka G, Thurnher D. Milk allergy is frequent in patients with chronic sinusitis and nasal polyposis. Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2011 Nov-Dec;25(6):e221-4.

[3] Leyva-López N, Gutiérrez-Grijalva EP, Vazquez-Olivo G, Heredia JB. Essential Oils of Oregano: Biological Activity beyond Their Antimicrobial Properties. Molecules. 2017 Jun 14;22(6):989.

[4] Heggers JP, Cottingham J, Gusman J, Reagor L, McCoy L, Carino E, Cox R, Zhao JG. The effectiveness of processed grapefruit-seed extract as an antibacterial agent: II. Mechanism of action and in vitro toxicity. J Altern Complement Med. 2002 Jun;8(3):333-40.

[5] Rabago D, Zgierska A. Saline nasal irrigation for upper respiratory conditions. Am Fam Physician. 2009 Nov 15;80(10):1117-9. PMID: 19904896; PMCID: PMC2778074.

[6]  De Rudder, C., Garcia-Tímermans, C., De Boeck, I. et al. Lacticaseibacillus casei AMBR2 modulates the epithelial barrier function and immune response in a donor-derived nasal microbiota manner. Sci Rep 10, 16939 (2020).

[7] Helms S, Miller A. Natural treatment of chronic rhinosinusitis. Altern Med Rev. 2006 Sep;11(3):196-207. PMID: 17217321.

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