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Why Antibiotics don’t help most Sinus Infections


Antibiotics are defined as drugs that are used to treat bacterial infections and reduce inflammation. They have no effect on viral infections.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunity found that around 60 to 70 percent of people with sinus infections recovered without any antibiotics. This statistic did however depend on the severity of the sinus infection.

Between 90 to 98 percent of all sinus infections have been attributed to viruses which are not treatable with antibiotics and an even more alarming statistic is that antibiotics are the fifth leading reason for prescribing antibiotics according to guidelines issued by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Sinusitis is an inflammation of the air cavities within the passage of the nose that are caused by infections and also allergies or any irritation to the sinus linings. Sinusitis may be classified as;

  • Acute sinusitis, the most common type which is caused by a viral infection and affects the majority of sinus sufferers and
  • Persistent sinusitis, the bacterial infection that lasts longer than 12 weeks, the only type that can be treated by antibiotics.

Sinus infection symptoms include:

  • Nasal congestion / a blocked nose
  • Pain in sinuses
  • A sore throat
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Color nasal mucus

Differences between viral infections and bacterial infections

With the viral infection, a person experiences headaches, coughing, a sore throat and congested nasal passages; however with a bacterial infection, symptoms include facial pain, pus-like nasal discharge and persistent symptoms that are not treated by over-the-counter medications.

The main reason why antibiotics do not help most sinus infections is that doctors usually find it difficult to determine whether a sinus infection is a result of a bacterial or viral infection. People usually consult with their doctors as soon as they realize there is an infection which makes it difficult for the doctor to ascertain the severity of the infection.

Some doctors advice that the patients wait a few days before taking the antibiotics hoping that the symptoms will disappear in a few days whilst others immediately prescribe antibiotics hoping that it will relieve the symptoms not realizing that the more antibiotics a person takes, the more resistant a person becomes towards these antibiotics. This is another reason why antibiotics end up not treating sinus infections.

It is difficult to tell whether an infection is viral or bacterial, doctors prescribe antibiotics just in case, to ease or relieve the patients of any pain and discomfort they may be in but as with most cases, the infection usually turns out to be viral and as antibiotics do to treat viral infections, it exposes patients to unnecessary side effects from the medication.

Because of this confusion, guidelines have been characterized to determine when it is appropriate to treat sinus infection with antibiotics. 
Antibiotics have been found to be necessary if:

  • Symptoms last longer than ten days or more with no improvement
  • Severe nasal pain and an infection that last for three to four days in a row is experienced
  • Nasal discharge
  • Fever, headache or increased nasal discharge is experienced

Previous guidelines suggested patients waited for a minimum of five to seven days before taking antibiotics. If the above are not experienced, antibiotics should not be taken to avoid patient resistance to antibiotics or any other medications.


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