When you think about keeping yourself in optimal health during cold season, you probably picture loading up on vitamin C, getting plenty of sleep, and washing your hands thoroughly. Thing is, all those efforts could be wasted if you’re not taking special care of your nasal microbiome.
Wait…A Nasal Microbiome?
Yes, a nasal microbiome is a thing. It refers to the collection of bacteria living inside your nose. “It is important that we begin to understand the nose microbiome, because we have harmless and beneficial microorganisms in there, but may also have a number of microorganisms that may cause health issues,” says gut health expert Mahmoud A. Ghannoum, Ph.D.
In fact, research recently published in Scientific Reports suggests that our nose microbiomes affect the type of colds we get and the severity of the symptoms we deal with.
In the Scientific Reports study, researchers tested people’s nasal microbiomes before and after giving them the cold virus.
What they found: There are six different patterns of nasal microbiomes, which lead to different reactions to the cold virus. The most notable connection: People whose noses were rich in a type of bacteria called staphylococcusbacteria (or staph) had more severe nasal symptoms than those whose noses had less staph.
“The background microbiome, the background bacterial pattern in your nose, [influenced] the way you reacted to the virus and how sick you got,” says lead researcher Ronald B. Turner, M.D., of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, in a press release.
Turner notes that environmental characteristics—such as whether you’re exposed to pollution or whether you have allergies—may also influence cold severity. However, he suspects that an interaction among you, your environment, and the pathogen ultimately determines your condition.
The researchers then gave participants oral probiotics to see if the good-for-you bacteria could impact the makeup of the nasal microbiome and help relieve the cold symptoms. They saw no benefit. Though research on the use of probiotics to balance the nose microbiome has a way to go, Ghannoum suggests animal research on the use of probiotic nasal sprays shows potential.
While this study doesn’t do much to help us fight terrible colds, it does help us understand why some people get worse colds than others. What’s more, these findings support ongoing research that shows how connected our microbiome is to all sorts of health issues.
“The reason why we do not know much about the nose microbiome yet is that, compared to the microbiome in the gut, the microbial communities present on the surfaces of the nose are less studied,” says Ghannoum. “But that’s next for microbiome researchers.”
Here are five supplements nutritionists take during cold season to keep their immune systems strong.