Getting a sinus infection is uncomfortable and, at times, unbearable, and your first instinct might be to beg your doctor for some antibiotics to treat the illness. But unlike other some other infections that require antibiotics, sinus infections don’t always require them. And actually, for the vast majority of patients, the infection can go away on its own. Taking antibiotics when not necessary won’t do anything to help your symptoms, and it can even worsen your health.
What The Experts Say When It Comes To Your Sinuses
“Eighty-five percent of sinus infections do not require antibiotics and will clear on their own,” says Dr. Jennifer Stagg. “In fact, the CDC reported in 2016 that half the antibiotic prescriptions written for respiratory infections including sinusitis were unnecessary.” In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the antibiotic amoxicillin was no better than a placebo at reducing symptoms in people with acute sinusitis after three days.
What Causes Sinusitis?
Before you try to figure out whether or not your infection requires medication, it’s important to know what causes these infections. Sinusitis, which involves inflammation of the tissue lining the sinuses, can lead to cold-like symptoms such as a runny, stuffy nose and facial pain. It can have a variety of root causes, but is most commonly caused by a virus—and antibiotics are useless against viruses. Instead of pumping yourself full of antibiotics, know that viral sinus infections usually resolve on their own, in about 7-10 days, according to Dr. Matthew Mintz.
Antibiotics, meanwhile, can be used to treat bacteria, though even bacteria-caused sinusitis often clears up on its own.
So Do You Need The Meds Or Not?
Determining whether or not your sinusitis is viral or bacterial can be tricky, but bacterial infections tend to be much more serious, says Mintz. “Bacterial sinus infections can last more than 10 days,” he says, “have higher fevers (over 102°F), have nasal discharge that is dark (brown, green, dark yellow) and can cause facial pain.” Seeing a doctor can help you determine whether your infection is viral or bacterial and whether antibiotics are necessary.
So why not take antibiotics, just in case? “There is always a risk to using antibiotics, so if you take a prescription and don’t need it, you risk the potential of adverse effects, allergic reactions and even development of a serious infection with Clostridium difficile, which can be difficult to treat,” says Stagg. “Also, the use of antibiotics increases the risk of developing antibiotic resistance.” Potential side effects from antibiotics include diarrhea, stomach problems, rashes and more. Add those on top of your cold-like symptoms and you might end up feeling much worse than when you began.
If antibiotics aren’t right for you, you can help relieve some symptoms by using medications like decongestants and antihistamines. Sinus infections are a pain, but in most cases, you’re better off waiting them out rather than potentially making yourself more unhealthy.
[h/t: Consumer Reports]