Sinus Problems: Antibiotics Useful or Harmful?


In this article, discover what’s the truth

  • Data about Antibiotics and Sinus infections
  • Is Sinus Infection Viral or Bacterial?
  • What is the Appropriate use of Antibiotics?

Data about Antibiotics and Sinus infections

Patients with painful  sinus  problems often plead with me to give them an antibiotic for sinus pressure. About 90% of adults seen in the U.S. by a primary care provider do end up getting an antibiotic for acute  sinusitis . Acute sinusitis is a sinus infection that lasts less than four weeks. Chronic sinusitis lasts longer than 12 weeks. Sinuses are hollow air spaces within the bones in the cheek bones, forehead and between the  eyes . Infections of the sinuses are usually caused by viral or bacterial infections. They cause thick mucus blockage with facial pressure. But antibiotics may not always be the best remedy for sinusitis…Your body should be able to cure itself of a mild or moderate sinusitis and avoid antibiotics that can cause antibiotic resistance. Research has shown that about 60% to 70% of people with sinus infections recover without antibiotics, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Sinus problems are also caused by viruses, for which antibiotics are not helpful.

Is Sinus Infection Viral or Bacterial?

Physicians may not know if sinusitis is bacterial or viral, because the diagnosis is typically done by observing symptoms. Symptoms include: nasal congestion, pain or discomfort around sinuses, cough   headache , thick yellow nasal or post-nasal discharge.

What is the Appropriate use of Antibiotics?

Recommendations suggest antibiotic use be judicious. However, they are still overused for sinusitis. Sometimes, we give patients with sinusitis a prescription for antibiotics, and recommend they wait five to seven days before filling it, and only fill it if symptoms are not better by then. Its most likely to turn into a bacterial infection if the symptoms don’t resolve in 7-10 days. Hence, antibiotics should be considered in patients with severe sinusitis symptoms that do not resolve or become better on its own after 7 days. If antibiotics are given, a 10- to 14-day course is recommended. Amoxicillin  is typically the first choice for people who are not allergic to penicillin.