Many of us probably think sinus infections need antibiotics to heal, but according to guidelines just released by the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and the American Academy of Otolaryngology, most sinus infections are caused by viruses. Common antibiotics do not affect viruses, so they do no good for sinus infections.
Actually, antibiotics can often cause more harm than good. They often cause stomach upset, and since they also wipe out good bacteria that exist in our intestines, they can cause other problems such as diarrhea. Rashes and allergic reactions to antibiotics are not uncommon. Perhaps the biggest problem with taking antibiotics when you don’t need them is that this causes bacteria to become stronger and more resistant to antibiotics.
This means when you need antibiotics in the future for a more serious infection, they might not work. This is becoming a serious public health issue, and many infectious disease experts are alarmed at how quickly many antibiotics are losing their potency. When they are overused, the bacteria just become stronger.
Most sinus infections develop after a cold or other upper respiratory infection, and most of these are caused by viruses, not bacteria. The guidelines state that if a sinus infection lasts more than 10 days without getting better, or if the symptoms worsen, that antibiotics should be considered.
The analysis by the American Academy of Otolaryngology showed that about 86% of patients with a sinus infection treated just with a placebo (sugar pill) medication got better within one to two weeks. People given antibiotics got better at about the same rate.
Of course there are some potentially serious sinus infections that do need antibiotic or other management from specialists, but most cases of sinus infection will go away on their own. Sinus infections with severe pain or increasing fever, worsening headache, change in vision, or the onset of confusion definitely should be seen right away by a doctor.
If you have any question about your diagnosis or treatment, of course you should see a doctor. But you can rest easy that in most cases, sinus infections will go away on their own. Sinus infections often get better by drinking lots of fluids, which thins the mucous, and some people find relief by irrigating their noses with a physiologic salt water solution. Any underlying allergic or environmental factors of course should also be treated.
Considering the possible side effects of antibiotics, and the risk of an allergic reaction, as well as contributing to making bacteria overall stronger and more resistant to antibiotics, should make us stop and think before we ask for a prescription of antibiotics.
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