Sinus Infection? Avoid Antibiotics

Turns out the common solution to treating a nasty infection doesn’t do much to help.

By: Melissa Romero

Antibiotics don't seem to help get rid of that sinus infection, researchers say. Photographs courtesy of Flickr users michaelll and tanjila.

Your head hurts, you can’t stop coughing, and, last time you checked, your snot has never been such a vibrant green.

You likely have a sinus infection, and the common solution is to get a prescription for antibiotics from your doctor. As it turns out, however, it’s not worth the trip.

A study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that antibiotics aren’t necessary to treat an acute sinus infection. In fact, a better solution may be just to wait it out.

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“We feel antibiotics are overused in the primary care setting,” said author Jane M. Garbutt in the study. Antibiotics for sinus infections count for one in five of prescriptions administered in the US.

The study included 166 adults, who showed moderate, severe, or very severe symptoms of sinus infections. They had to report pain or tenderness in the face and nasal discharge that lasted between a week and 28 days. Participants were split into two groups; over the course of ten days, one group received amoxicillin, while the other received a placebo.

The adults were monitored 3, 7, 10, and 28 days during treatment, using the SNOT-16 (Sinonasal Outcome Test-16). There was no difference in symptoms by day three. While researchers found improvements with the antibiotic group after day seven, it was insignificant for even the participants to notice a change in their symptoms.

The problem, Garbutt told JAMA, is that patients usually don’t know the difference between a sinus infection, which is caused by viruses, and a bacterial infection. Antibiotics only work against bacteria, but “a lot of the time, patients call in and say they have a sinus infection and need an antibiotic, and the physician will call in the prescription without even having a conversation with the patient,” she explained.

In the long run, this overuse can cause one’s body to become resistant to antibiotics. Instead, the researchers suggest carefully monitoring symptoms of a sinus infection—coughing, pain, and congestion—for five to seven days. If the patient still feels sick, then antibiotics are a fine solution to treat a likely bacterial infection.

To read the full study, click here.