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 in partnership 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

[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.

Dr. Rothenberg 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, and The Huff Post. She is the proud mother of 3 adult children.

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Deb Hubers

Debra Hubers is a serial entrepreneur and has started seven businesses; ranging from an advanced genomics to an employer health care purchasing cooperative. Deb has over 35 years of experience in healthcare finance, education, technology, and pharmacogenomics.

Ms. Hubers has dedicated her career to measuring and improving healthcare outcomes. Her expertise is leveraging technology to deliver personalized, preventative medicine. Ms. Hubers co-founded La Vita Compounding Pharmacy in 2007. Collaborating with her business partner, physicians and strategic partners, Deb has grown La Vita to be one of the most respected and sought-after personalized medicine providers on the west coast. She is also Co-Founder of EpigeneticsRx, a leading provider of precise, personalized, prevention which positively impacts genetic expression.

Alex Keller, ND

Dr. Alex Keller, ND, AFMCP is a graduate of the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor in Health Sciences and Psychology. Although originally intending to attend conventional medical school, following a three-month volunteer internship at a rural Kenyan hospital where he observed how doctors used local food to treat patients, he shifted his career goals and pursued a degree in naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

After one year of practicing with the esteemed Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND, RH in a community acupuncture setting, in 2015 he and his wife Dr. Jenn Keller, ND moved to rural Ottawa, Canada where they started an organic farm and retreat center. In the same year, Alex and his athletic therapist sister Jess Keller combined their practices to form Keller Active Health, an integrative physical therapy clinic.

Ever curious and passionate about the education of evidence-based natural medicine, in 2017, Dr. Keller joined a fledgling Ottawa-based health tech startup named Fullscript. He serves as its Medical Director and oversees the development of medical education content for practitioners across North America.

Prior to medicine, Alex worked in the renewable energy sector, where he developed a deep passion for sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. This connection between medicine and agriculture now drives Alex to focus much of his energy on bringing awareness to the quality and sourcing standards in the supplement and organic agriculture supply chains.

Today, he splits his professional time practicing as a clinician, working for Fullscript, and expanding the farming operation while chasing his kids with Jenn and occasionally running ultra-marathon trail races. He is also currently completing an Executive MBA through the Quantic School of Business & Technology with a focus on supply chain innovation.

Pamela Snider, ND

Pamela Snider, ND, is Executive and Senior Editor for the Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Project, producing a first of its kind international textbook of Naturopathic medicine through a series of international retreats and symposia. A nationally recognized integrative health and policy leader, she is active in both national and regional integrative health initiatives. Dr. Snider serves on the Board of Directors, was founding Executive Director and co-founder of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Health (ACIH/ACCAHCa consortium of the councils of schools, accrediting agencies and certifying bodies of the licensed, traditional and emerging integrative health professions, and is currently Vice Chair and co-founder of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC).  Dr. Snider served as a founding Board Member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine from 2014-2016. Her public policy work includes completing a two year appointment to the DHHS Center For Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC); serving as a Steering Committee Member for  the HRSA funded American College of Preventive Medicine NCCIM Integrative Medicine in Preventive Medicine Residency program, co-directing in USPHS Region X the Building Bridges Between Provider Communities Group, an exploration of interdisciplinary collaboration and common ground between public health and CAM; serving for 22 years on Washington State’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program Advisory Committee (HPLRSP); providing technical assistance to and developing key language for the enabling legislation for NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH/NCCAM); and staffing Joseph Pizzorno ND during his appointment as Commissioner on the White House Commission on CAM Policy.

From 1994-2003, Dr. Snider served as Associate Dean for Public and Professional Affairs and Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, dividing her work between academic and public affairs activities, including chairing the Naturopathic Medicine Program Curriculum Review Committee.  Dr. Snider has been teaching, publishing and lecturing widely on Naturopathic philosophy, theory integrative health, public policy, and other topics for over 30 years. Currently, an Associate Professor at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, OR, Dr. Snider also continues at Bastyr University in her 22nd year as a faculty member teaching naturopathic medicine history, clinical theory, and global context. Among her Naturopathic medicine professional roles she serves on the Institute for Natural Medicine’s Leadership Council.  In 1989, she co-led the naturopathic profession with Dr. Jared Zeff, in developing a unifying definition of naturopathic medicine and its principles of practice adopted unanimously by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) House of Delegates. She was a co-investigator in the 2004 NIH NCCAM research study, the North American Naturopathic Medical Research Agenda and CAM Advisor in NIHCCAM’s Financing Integrative Health Care (University of Washington).  Her areas of experience include healthcare education; naturopathic and interdisciplinary clinical theory, curriculum development; clinical practice; government and legislative affairs, public policy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community organizing.  Dr. Snider has received the Ontario Naturopathic Physician of the Year Award, the Physician of the Year Award from the AANP, the President’s Outstanding Vision Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award at Bastyr University, AANP’s President’s Award, an honorary Doctorate of Naturopathic Philosophy from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), the William A Mitchell Vis Award from the AANP and The Gathering – NMSA’s Beacon Award. She received her ND degree in 1982 from Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences and is a licensed naturopathic physician in the State of Washington. She lives with her husband and children at their homestead in North Bend Washington, in the beautiful mountain to sea landscape and home of The Revival – Restore the Vis, an annual student-led community gathering.

Susan Haeger

Susan Haeger is Founder/Principal of Transformative Health Solutions Inc. She has applied her twenty plus years in executive leadership to help shape and drive adoption of progressive health policy for whole person healthcare. She was a section contributor to the 2021 INM/AANP published professional white paper, Naturopathic Physicians as Whole Health Specialists: The Future is Whole Person Health Care that provides supporting evidence for the profession’s significant and unique contributions to preventive, whole person care and models of integrative clinical practice.

Bruce Barlean

Bruce Barlean is an owner and founder of Barlean’s, a global dietary supplement manufacturer located in the Pacific Northwest in Ferndale, WA. Bruce has been actively involved in the Natural Products industry since 1989 and is passionate about making a difference in the world and positively impacting the lives of others.

Bruce believes that people can make a difference in the world through ordinary purchases. He is committed to improving the quality of life for every person on the planet by making the best products and by using the profits to support outreach programs. Bruce summarizes it simply, “We make good stuff to do good stuff”.

In the late 1980’s Bruce became passionate about how health could be dramatically improved with Flax Oil Supplementation. Bruce along with his entrepreneurial parents saw the potential to improve the lives of many people and in 1989 they began selling Flax Oil under the Barlean’s name. From 1989 – 2000 the business grew an average of 40% year over year. While most companies saw a decline in business in the 2001 recession, Barlean’s continued to grow and soon became America’s #1 selling flaxseed oil and continues to be to the present. The brand has since expanded to include additional oils, green food concentrates and other premium supplements. Bruce continues to drive innovation and over the years his products and company have won countless awards including: Eight consecutive Vity Awards for #1 EFA, Six consecutive Vity Awards for #1 Greens Food Supplement, Natural Choice Award for Best Specialty Supplement, Best Product of the Year, Best New Product, Gold Medal Taster’s Choice Award, Gold Medal American Masters of Taste Award, #1 Health Food Store Brand for Consumer Satisfaction by Consumer Lab, and Manufacturer of the Year.

In 2013 as the company was on the eve of celebrating the 25th year in business Bruce and his parents decided to take their desire to help people to a new level that they call Pathway to a Better Life – which is now seen in the Barlean’s logo. Bruce and his parents had always been generous in their giving and support of charities, but as part of the Pathway to a Better Life they decided to increased partnership with charitable organizations such as: Vitamin Angels, Compassion International, KidsTown International, Autism Hope Alliance, Engedi Refuge, Project 92, and others. And because so many people are unable to meet basic nutritional needs, Bruce created a comprehensive Omega-3 and multivitamin formula that he distributes free-of-charge to local food banks. In addition, Bruce decided the company would supply food banks with organic coconut oil to provide people with a health alternative to standard cooking oils.

Always generous with his time Bruce has served as a youth leader for his local church for several years and continues to mentor youth. He has been on several not for profit boards including; Whatcom County Pregnancy Center (2003-2006), Natural Products Association (dates?), and the Institute for Natural Medicine Leadership Council (presently).

The Barlean family have been avid supporters of Bastyr University since the 1990’s and in 2013 were given Bastyr’s most prestigious honor, the Mission Award, which recognizes their leadership over time in improving the health and well-being of the human community.

Bruce currently resides in Ferndale, WA with his wife Lisa and their two dogs: Heinz & Shadow. When he’s not helping others he can be found fishing (catch & release).

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Michelle Simon, PHD, ND

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As president and CEO of INM, Dr. Simon brings her passion for working with organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of healthcare. This desire stems from her years of practice as a licensed naturopathic physician. In addition to holding a Naturopathic Doctorate from Bastyr University she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has served on boards for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI), and several advisory boards. Dr. Simon served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee, as Ambassador to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) and was recognized as 2018 AANP Physician of the Year. Dr. Simon shares with her husband a passion for adventure travel, preferably by boat or motorcycle. She also enjoys teaching a women’s off-road motorcycling class.