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Are Antibiotics Useless for Sinus Infections?

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Antibiotics are commonly used to treat sinus infections, but a new study found that they work no better than a placebo. Further, prescribing antibiotics to sinus patients may cause harm by increasing their resistance to the medications.


In the study, researchers followed about 200 patients with sinusitis. Of the 100 who received an antibiotic, 29 percent had symptoms that lasted 10 days or more. Another 107 received a placebo, and 34 percent had similarly lasting symptoms. The difference was statistically insignificant.

The effectiveness of a nasal steroid spray for sinus infections was also tested in the study, and found to work the same as the placebo (except among a group of patients with milder symptoms, when it was slightly beneficial).

The researchers suggested that the antibiotic did not help the sinus infections because it couldn’t penetrate the pus-filled sinus cavities.

Unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics has led to enormous problems with drug resistance. Antibiotics were recently found to be ineffective against ear infections and bronchitis as well.

The researchers say the results should encourage more patients to forgo antibiotics for sinus infections.

“With a little bit of patience, the body will usually heal itself,” said Dr. Ian Williamson, the study’s lead author.

Click to learn about sinusitis


Journal of the American Medical Association December 5, 2007;298(21):2487-2496
Houston Chronicle December 5, 2007