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 A recent study compared saline nasal irrigation vs steam inhalation vs doing both saline irrigation and steam inhalation vs doing neither (the control group) for chronic or recurring sinusitis symptoms. In the study, people with a history of chronic or recurring sinusitis symptoms were randomly assigned to one of the 4 groups, and then studied 3 months and 6 months later. The results were: a modest (slight improvement) in the saline irrigation group in symptom and quality-of-life scores, but no improvement for the steam inhalation group. However, the researchers noted that the control group also had slight improvements at 3 and 6 months. Most of the improvement in the saline irrigation group was in the group that also did steam inhalation - thus perhaps some benefit to combining both.

In addition, patients in the nasal irrigation group reported fewer headaches, fewer of them used over-the-counter medications, and said they were less likely to consult with a physician about their nasal problems in the future when compared with patients in the steam inhalation group.

Most people with chronic or recurring sinusitis will probably agree with the findings. Yes, effects are modest with saline irrigation, but it definitely does improve nasal stuffiness (experiences of family members and readers). But it does NOT treat the sinusitis. The sinus microbial community continues to stay out of whack (dysbiosis). Which explains the researchers' finding that saline irrigation and steam inhalation did not result in differences in antibiotic use or physician visits after 6 months.

From Science Daily: Nasal irrigation may prevent chronic sinus ailments

Advising patient with chronic sinus congestion to use nasal irrigation -- a popular nonpharmacologic treatment -- improved their symptoms, but steam inhalation did not, according to a randomized controlled trial published in CMAJ(Canadian Medical Association Journal). More than 25 million people in the United States and about 2.5 million Canadians suffer from chronic rhinosinusitis, or sinus infection, and experience compromised quality of life. To alleviate symptoms, steam inhalation and nasal irrigation are widely suggested as an alternative to common treatment with antibiotics, which are often not effective and contribute to antibiotic resistance.

Researchers from the United Kingdom conducted a randomized controlled trial on the effectiveness of advice from primary care physicians to use nasal irrigation and/or steam inhalation for chronic sinusitis. The study involved 871 patients from 72 primary care practices in England who were randomly assigned to 1 of 4 advice strategies: usual care, daily nasal and saline irrigation supported by a demonstration video, daily steam inhalation, or combined treatment with both interventions.

Patients who were instructed to use nasal irrigation showed improvement at 3 and 6 months, as measured by the Rhinosinusitis Disability Index. Steam inhalation did not appear to alleviate symptoms of sinusitis.

"We found potentially important changes in other outcomes; in particular, fewer participants in the nasal irrigation group than in the no-irrigation group had headaches, used over-the-counter medications and intended to consult a doctor in future episodes," write the authors. "Although there was no significant difference in either physician visits or antibiotic use, as might be expected over only a 6-month follow-up period, our findings concerning consultations are important in the longer term, given antibiotic use increases the risk of antimicrobial resistance."

The Abstract (summary) of the study, which is from the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ): Effectiveness of steam inhalation and nasal irrigation for chronic or recurrent sinus symptoms in primary care: a pragmatic randomized controlled trial

ABSTRACT  Background: Systematic reviews support nasal saline irrigation for chronic or recurrent sinus symptoms, but trials have been small and few in primary care settings. Steam inhalation has also been proposed, but supporting evidence is lacking. We investigated whether brief pragmatic interventions to encourage use of nasal irrigation or steam inhalation would be effective in relieving sinus symptoms.

Methods: We conducted a pragmatic randomized controlled trial involving adults (age 18–65 yr) from 72 primary care practices in the United Kingdom who had a history of chronic or recurrent sinusitis and reported a “moderate to severe” impact of sinus symptoms on their quality of life. Participants were recruited between Feb. 11, 2009, and June 30, 2014, and randomly assigned to 1 of 4 advice strategies: usual care, daily nasal saline irrigation supported by a demonstration video, daily steam inhalation, or combined treatment with both interventions. The primary outcome measure was the Rhinosinusitis Disability Index (RSDI). Patients were followed up at 3 and 6 months. We imputed missing data using multiple imputation methods.

Results: Of the 961 patients who consented, 871 returned baseline questionnaires (210 usual care, 219 nasal irrigation, 232 steam inhalation and 210 combined treatment). A total of 671 (77.0%) of the 871 participants reported RSDI scores at 3 months. Patients’ RSDI scores improved more with nasal irrigation than without nasal irrigation by 3 months (crude change −7.42 v. −5.23; estimated adjusted mean difference between groups −2.51, 95% confidence interval −4.65 to −0.37). By 6 months, significantly more patients maintained a 10-point clinically important improvement in the RSDI score with nasal irrigation (44.1% v. 36.6%); fewer used over-the-counter medications (59.4% v. 68.0%) or intended to consult a doctor in future episodes. Steam inhalation reduced headache but had no significant effect on other outcomes. The proportion of participants who had adverse effects was the same in both intervention groups.

Interpretation: Advice to use steam inhalation for chronic or recurrent sinus symptoms in primary care was not effective. A similar strategy to use nasal irrigation was less effective than prior evidence suggested, but it provided some symptomatic benefit.

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 A wonderful journal article from March 17, 2015 by E.K. Cope and S.V. Lynch (one of the original L. sakei - sinusitis researchers) in which they discuss various probiotic (beneficial bacteria) species that might have some benefit in treating chronic sinusitis, which they refer to as chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS). They discuss bacteria that have have been (somewhat) studied in humans or mice and could have potential in sinusitis treatment: Lactobacillus sakei, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus johnsonii, and Staphylococcus epidermidis. [NOTE: So few studies (almost none) have been done with probiotics in CRS  that the odds are really good that other species of bacteria, or combinations of bacteria, will also prove to be beneficial.]

It seems that a nasal spray with a mixture of beneficial bacteria may ultimately work the best because the bacterial diversity of the sinus microbiome is depleted in persons with chronic sinusitis, and there is "enrichment of sinus pathogens" (bacteria that can cause disease). As I've mentioned in other posts, S.V. Lynch is involved in developing a nasal probiotic spray containing L. sakei and other Lactobacillus species to treat sinusitis, but it is unknown when that will be available.

The authors also made the point that probiotics (beneficial bacteria) may work several ways in the sinus microbiome (a community of microbes living in the sinuses). This "niche" with its own ecosystem or community of species can be altered, with some bacteria species wiped out, perhaps by illness and/or repeated courses of antibiotics. Therefore, think of the different microbial species in the sinus microbiome as having different functions: as a keystone (a species that has a very large effect on the community), pioneer (species that are the first to colonize the niche after a disruption), or dominant species found in a healthy state (species with a relatively high abundance in a niche).

They also discuss what are the main pathogens found in chronic sinusitis, but they also mention that bacteria that we think of as pathogenic (the bad bacteria) are also present in healthy persons - just at a lower level than in chronic sinusitis sufferers. Also, these diverse microbial communities can vary between healthy individuals - that is, the healthy microbial communities are a little different among people. Common pathogenic bacteria found in CRS are: Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum (normally a harmless skin bacteria), and Streptococcus species. Remember, healthy sinuses have greater bacterial diversity than sinusitis sufferers, and CRS patients have "substantial microbiome dysbiosis" (microbial communities out-of-whack), with "microbiome community collapse" and "enrichment of specific sinus pathogens". In other words, the microbial sinus communities in CRS are in bad shape and need to get good bacteria in there.

For information on how some people are already successfully using probiotics such as L. sakei for sinusitis treatment, read The One Probiotic That Treats Sinusitis (products, brands, and methods).

When reading the following, remember that dysbiosis means "the microbial community is out of whack". Some excerpts from the Cope and Lynch article from Current Allergy and Asthma Reports:

Novel Microbiome-Based Therapeutics for Chronic Rhinosinusitis

The human microbiome, i.e. the collection of microbes that live on, in and interact with the human body, is extraordinarily diverse; microbiota have been detected in every tissue of the human body interrogated to date. Resident microbiota interact extensively with immune cells and epithelia at mucosal surfaces including the airways, and chronic inflammatory and allergic respiratory disorders are associated with dysbiosis of the airway microbiome. Chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS) is a heterogeneous disease with a large socioeconomic impact, and recent studies have shown that sinus inflammation is associated with decreased sinus bacterial diversity and the concomitant enrichment of specific sinus pathogens.

Similar to other chronic inflammatory diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease and asthma, evidence is emerging for the role of the sinus microbiome in defining upper airway health.....two trends in the literature are evident. First, all three studies that have examined the microbiota of healthy subjects demonstrate the presence of a diverse microbiome that includes bacterial groups classically considered as causative agents of respiratory disease, including Pseudomonas, Staphylococcus, and Streptococcus. Second, substantial sinonasal microbiome dysbiosis is associated with CRS. In one example, Abreu and colleagues demonstrated microbiome community collapse in the maxillary sinuses of CRS patients compared to healthy controls characterized by the outgrowth of Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum. In another study, nasal lavage specimens from CRS patients revealed microbiome collapse coincident with Staphylococcus enrichment.

Immune responses in individuals with CRS vary considerably across patients.... While the underlying processes contributing to a patient’s immune response are not well understood, there is evidence for microbial stimulation. Staphylococcus aureus exotoxins are associated with a Th2 inflammatory response characterized by eosinophilia and enterotoxin-specific IgE , and the Th2 cytokines IL-4 and IL-13 have been associated with S. aureus outgrowth in other inflammatory diseases. Another common sinus pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, can induce antimicrobial nitric oxide production by host recognition of bacterial quorum sensing molecules through stimulation of the bitter taste receptor T2R38. There is clearly heterogeneity across patients with CRS; thus, future therapeutic microbiome manipulation strategies must be targeted to the specific microbiome perturbation and immune dysfunction of the patient.

Since CRS is immunologically and microbiologically diverse, it is not surprising that current treatment strategies using corticosteroids alone or in combination with antibiotics are variably successful. Some patients recover completely without recurrence, although 10–25 % of patients require repeated treatment....Patients who do not respond to medical management are candidates for functional endoscopic sinus surgery (FESS). The goal of FESS is to remove polypoid tissue and open ostia to facilitate sinus drainage. While some patients rebuild their native, healthy microbial communities and epithelium following FESS, many patients require revision sinus surgeries. Importantly, these therapies only manage chronic airway diseases and, in many cases, do not address the underlying source of disease, e.g., dysregulated microbiota. Since it is clear that the microbiome plays a fundamental role in respiratory health, it is essential to begin to define the interaction between pathogens or pathobionts in the context of the healthy host microbiota.

As discussed above, the most common route of probiotic delivery (oral) takes advantage of the GI-respiratory axis. In the only clinical trial of probiotic use in chronic rhinosinusitis, Mukerji and colleagues reported that oral administration of L. rhamnosus R0011 improved patient-reported symptoms of rhinosinusitis in the short term (<4 weeks), but not the long term (8 weeks). These results suggest a potential role for GI microbiome manipulation to affect the sinus immune response; however, there has not been a follow-up study to further elucidate this role. Repeated dosing or inoculation with mixed species could improve these results.

Several variables should be considered when designing probiotics for potential treatment of sinus disease. The first consideration, the route of administration, will determine the mechanism of action of the probiotic. Oral probiotic supplements primarily affect the respiratory tract through translocation of microbial metabolites, cytokines, or immune cells to the airways via systemic circulation, while local delivery via sprays or nasal lavage will affect the sinonasal microbiota and local immune responses...This first variable, route of administration, will determine which probiotic species are used. A second consideration for probiotic development is whether to supplement with a single species or a mixed-species consortium. Single species or species mixtures can be selected based on how best to leverage the healthy microbiome. From an ecological perspective, the potential role of the probiotic(s) should be considered. For example, the specie(s) may function as keystone (a species that has a disproportionately large effect on the community), pioneer (species that are the first to colonize the niche after a disruption), or dominant species found in a healthy state (species with a relatively high abundance in a niche).

Animal models are powerful tools for exploring the relationship of the host-microbiome to health and disease.... In malnourished mice, nasal instillation of Lactobacillus casei can confer protection against pathogens by enhancing host innate immune response....Live L. casei had additional benefits of temporarily colonizing the respiratory mucosa to competitively exclude S. pneumonia. Intranasal administration of Lactobacillus plantarum DK119 protected mice from lethal loads of influenza A virus through modulating host immunity of alveolar dendritic cells and macrophages. Similarly, intranasal administration of L. rhamnosus GG protected mice from H1N1 influenza infection by activating lung natural killer cells..... They also show that this protection can be achieved through feeding a single species L. johnsonii, which was enriched in the cecum of mice fed house dust.... In a sinusitis model, Abreu and colleagues demonstrated that intranasal administration of Lactobacillus sakei, identified using 16S rRNA phylogenetic microarray analysis of healthy human sinuses, protects against C. tuberculostearicum-induced sinusitis. A similar murine study showed that Staphylococcus epidermidis can protect against S. aureus-induced sinusitis. Together, these studies show promise for microbiome based therapeutics in sinusitis. However, we must think critically about the species or community used for sinus protection, administration methods, as well as the timing for microbial intervention

Probiotic administration can influence the host-microbiome composition and function directly through production of antimicrobials, changing the pH, or through competitive colonization within a niche. Bacteriocins are antimicrobial peptides produced by bacteria with a wide range of activity, either narrow spectrum (active against similar species) or broad spectrum (active across genera). Lactic acid bacteria are well-established producers of bacteriocins. The protective species identified by Abreu and colleagues, L. sakei, is known to produce several bacteriocins with a wide range of characteristics and putative modes of action, although the best characterized bacteriocin from this species is sakacin. Sakacin has antimicrobial activity against Gram positive taxa, including Listeria spp. and Enterococcus spp., but not Gram-negative bacteria.

Other Lactobacillus species that are potential probiotics for the airways act through the production of alternative antimicrobial compounds. Lactobacillus reuteri produces the protein reuterin, which acts as an antimicrobial compound by inducing oxidative stress in competing bacteria. Reuterin production is increased in the presence of E. coli, suggesting that the effects of this protein are aimed at eliminating competing microbes, giving L. reuteri an advantage in adherence and colonization of host mucosa. Lactobacillus spp. also commonly produce acetic acid and lactic acid, thereby lowering the pH of their niche and inhibiting the growth of acid-intolerant taxa. Finally, probiotic species can compete for growth substrates or receptor binding sites. L. johnsonii competes with several known pathogens for adhesion receptors, which are either glycoproteins or glycolipids. One such receptor is gangliotetraosylceramide (asialo-GM1), a glycolipid that is abundant in pulmonary tissue.

Probiotic intervention for respiratory diseases is an area of active investigation, particularly in light of recent microbiome findings. While the field is still relatively nascent, the potential for probiotic manipulation of the sinus microbiome to treat or prevent CRS is great. However, our current understanding of the healthy sinus microbiome and, thus, how best to manipulate it in a disease state are not well defined. Whether to use mixed versus single species and strain inocula, specific species used, mode of delivery, inoculum concentration, and determining the frequency of supplementation are some of the factors that need to be addressed in optimizing probiotic effects. Most of the studies discussed in this article have focused on the gut microbiome and effects at distal sites because these interactions have formed the focus of the majority of stduies to date. However, the murine [mouse] studies discussed here suggest that local administration of probiotics to the sinuses can affect the dynamics of the sinus microbiome.

Lactobacillus_sakei Lactobacillus sakei Credit: BacMap Genome Atlas