Will antibiotics really help my sinusitis?

We look at the effectiveness of antibiotics in the treatment of sinusitis.

29 January 2015
by Wendy Maritz

Infected sinuses and the associated discomfort and pain can be a nasty business. Bouts of acute sinusitis can last for up to four weeks, so it’s no wonder that sufferers would look to antibiotics to help clear up the infection. But, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this may not be the most effective course of treatment. In fact, the study revealed that up to 70 percent of the people with sinus infections recovered without their use.

Dr Adrian Morris from The Allergy Clinic in Cape Town agrees that antibiotics “tend to be overprescribed for any sinus problem, and that the evidence shows that they don’t make a lot of difference.” He adds that shorter bouts of acute sinusitis with cold-like symptoms and clear mucous point to a viral infection, for which antibiotics are completely ineffective. “Bacterial infections tend to last longer, cause green or yellow mucous, and are associated with fever and tenderness around the sinus areas (the forehead, cheekbones and between and behind the eyes),” he says. 

When should antibiotics be prescribed?

Based on the symptoms produced by bacterial infection, antibiotics may be prescribed, but guidelines developed by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology suggest that this should be done for prolonged and severe sinusitis symptoms. And in such cases, antibiotics (penicillin is advised unless there is an allergy) would be prescribed for 10 to 14 days to be effective. "A longer course of treatment is necessary because antibiotics don’t penetrate the sinuses very well due to poor blood flow in these areas,” explains Dr Morris.

Dr Morris would also advise antibiotics for people who have compromised immune systems, such as diabetes patients, the elderly, those on chronic cortisone treatment, or people with serious heart or lung disease. Courses of antibiotics should be taken as prescribed by your healthcare provider and completed.

Other alternatives

Dr Morris suggests trying simple salt-water nasal flushes and nasal irrigation for relief. Decongestants can also help to drain the sinuses and relieve symptoms.

Available at Clicks

Clicks stocks saline sprays, decongestants, and a range of over-the-counter solutions for relief from sinusitis both in-store and online. To purchase sinus congestion products online, go here. Ask a Clicks pharmacist for advice about a product to soothe your symptoms. 

Antibiotics can also be acquired at the Clicks dispensary on presentation of a prescription. Find your nearest pharmacy by visiting here

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com