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Health Team

Most sinus infections don't require antibiotics, new guidelines say

Posted March 27, 2012 5:00 p.m. EDT
Updated April 3, 2012 10:12 a.m. EDT

— New guidelines released by the Infectious Diseases Society of America say that most sinus infections do not require antibiotics. They recommend prescribing antibiotics only if the case is severe or if symptoms have lasted for 10 or more days.

For patients that have very severe symptoms for three to four days with a high fever, they recommend immediate or quick treatment with antibiotics…usually with a stronger antibiotic," said Dr. Linda Dahl of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

About 1 in 7 people suffer from sinus infections every year, and most are prescribed an antibiotic to relieve congestion. However, antibiotics only fight bacterial infections, and viruses cause 90 to 98 percent of sinus infections.

It is difficult to determine whether an infection is bacterial or viral, and some doctors prescribe antibiotics, such as Amoxicillin, just in case. Physicians say the practice is leading to drug-resistant strains of bacteria.

"The types of antibiotics we can offer, the range is more narrow now, because the antibiotics that used to be offered, like the Z-pac or Amoxicillin, just aren't really effective anymore," said Dahl.

Physicians recommend over-the-counter decongestants to keep sinuses clear, as well as washing hands often to prevent the spread of germs.