Search IconSearch

How Good Bacteria in Your Nose Fights Infections

Reduce unnecessary antibiotics to help your immune system

woman sneezing wiping nose

The “good bacteria” in our gastrointestinal tracts has gotten a lot of attention lately, but our guts aren’t the only places that host good bacteria. Our noses, sinuses and nasal passages contain similar colonies of beneficial bacteria.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

The bacteria in these areas are starting to move into the spotlight as more research is done on the positive impacts those bacteria can have in preventing the bad bacteria from colonizing and the negative impacts that result when we destroy the good bacteria.

“There are a lot of bacteria that colonize our nose and throat that are supposed to be there,” says head and neck specialist Michael Benninger, MD. “But primarily due to overuse of antibiotics, we have changed the colonies in our nose to bacteria that are more harmful.”

Among these are bacteria that lead to some of the common staph, streptococcus pneumonia, H-flu, sinusitis and strep throat infections that regularly plague people, he adds.

How to make sure you have good bacteria in your body

Preserving the good bacteria starts with a more conservative use of antibiotics. That means physicians are now less likely to prescribe antibiotics to treat infections that don’t always warrant their use.

“The principles of sinus therapy, particularly since many people were being treated for viruses where antibiotics aren’t helpful anyway, are to avoid antibiotic use, unless it is very clear that it is a bacterial infection,” explains Dr. Benninger. “That will allow our normal bacteria to recolonize our nose, nasopharynx and throat so they can fight infections naturally.”

How to prevent nose infections

Right now, the best steps you can take are related to prevention of infections, including the following:

  • Work with your doctor to determine whether or not you have a bacterial infection. “We shouldn’t treat infections with an antibiotic until 10 to 14 days after the onset,” Dr. Benninger says. “If it’s viral, it will be self-limited and will run its course, so if you treat it with an antibiotic, it just increases the likelihood of colonizing bad bacteria by killing the good bacteria with the antibiotics.”
  • Wash out the bad stuff yourself. Use saline irrigation products like a neti pot to clear out some of the bad bacteria and fungus in your nose that can cause inflammation.
  • Use over-the-counter treatments to relieve the symptoms. Taken at the onset of symptoms, products such as Nasacort®, an intranasal steroid, which are mostly over-the-counter, such as triamcinolone acetonide, fluticasone propionate or budesonide, will help reduce inflammation and mucus production and can shorten the course of the viral infection. Nasal decongestants like oxymetazoline (Afrin®) can help you breathe better.
  • Keep your hands clean. Wash your hands or use a hand cleanser. Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Take long-term preventive steps to avoid getting these infections. Do aerobic exercises and get plenty of rest and proper hydration. People who do aerobic exercise on a routine basis strengthen their immune system. This makes them a third less likely to get a cold, virus or bacterial sinusitis in the first place.


The future health of our noses

Like gut flora, good nasal flora will eventually have probiotics to help nourish and cultivate them. Some of these products are already in use in Europe. However, they have not yet been approved in the United States because of the more stringent FDA regulations.

“Right now, we’re in preventive mode,” Dr. Benninger says. “But in the future, we will likely be using probiotics in the nose and sinuses, similar to what we do in the GI tract.”


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Hands of healthcare provider checking bangages on knee after surgery
June 21, 2024/Infectious Disease
Signs of an Infection After Surgery

Keep the area clean and monitor your incision site for discharge, odor or a change in appearance

Adult male hunched over blowing his nose into a tissue
Is Your Immune System Working Overtime?

An overactive immune system can be just as serious as one that stops working

fire cider in a mason jar
Fire Cider: What Is It? And Can It Prevent Illness?

This spicy concoction can do more harm than good, upsetting your stomach and causing painful acid reflux

crowd of people at music concert
February 5, 2024/Infectious Disease
What Constitutes a ‘Superspreader Event’?

Any large social gathering — from a family birthday party to an indoor music concert — has the potential to spread serious infection

female with fingers pressing on bridge of nose in distress
Got a Sinus Infection That Won’t Quit? When To Worry

Give it seven to 10 days, but if your symptoms linger or get worse, it’s time to see a healthcare provider

person holding a thermometer with stress thought bubbles above head
December 1, 2023/Rheumatology & Immunology
Yes, There Is Such a Thing as Stress Sickness

From nausea, weight gain and eczema, stress can affect your immune system in many ways

children on playground running and playing tag.
October 13, 2023/Infectious Disease
What We Learn From ‘Getting Cooties’ as Kids

Cooties aren’t real, but the lessons they teach us about infectious disease are

Closeup of vials of vaccines in background with one being punctured by a vaccine needle in foreground.
July 6, 2023/Infectious Disease
How Are Vaccines Developed and How Do They Work?

They can stop an infection before it gets you sick or prevent you from becoming seriously sick

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims