About one in seven people are diagnosed with a sinus infection each year, and these infections are the fifth most common reason for antibiotic prescriptions. But new guidelines say that 90-98% of all sinus infections are caused by viruses and should not be treated with antibiotics which only target bacteria.
According to the guidelines released by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), the inappropriate overuse of antibiotics is also encouraging the development of drug-resistant bacteria or "superbugs."
Why Overdosing Occurs
So why are doctors so quick to write a script for antibiotics? Experts believe an inability to determine the cause of sinusitis often leads to inappropriate prescribing. There is no simple test that will easily and quickly determine whether a sinus infection is viral or bacterial, so many physicians prescribe antibiotics 'just in case,' explained Dr. Anthony Chow, chair of the guidelines panel and professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.
As a result of overuse of antibiotics, antibiotic resistance among common sinus pathogens has increased significantly.
Sinus infections frequently follow a cold or upper respiratory infection as they often produce inflammation and swelling of the sinuses.
Since the common cold is usually caused by a virus, most sinus problems should clear up on their own with time and self-care. This includes using decongestants, nasal sprays, steam or hot showers to keep sinus passages open and loosen mucus. This will help prevent viral infections from turning into bacterial infections as mucus congestion can harbor bacterial growth.
If your symptoms persist or worsen and you do seek a doctor’s treatment, experts say you can avoid misdiagnosis and improper treatment with an endoscopy-based diagnosis and culture-directed antibiotic therapy.
The IDSA guidelines recommend treating bacterial infections with amoxicillin-clavulanate, rather than the current standard, amoxicillin. This is due to increases in antibiotic resistance as well as the widespread use of pneumococcal vaccines, which have altered the pattern of bacteria that cause sinus infections.
The guidelines also recommend shorter antibiotic treatment times (five to seven days) for adults with bacterial sinus infections.
For additional information read, Cold and Flu Facts and Myths.