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New study: for most sinus infections, antibiotics don't help

(Image courtesy of NIAID)

There is growing evidence that taking antibiotics does not help cure most sinus infections.

A new study out of Washington University compared sinus patients who were given the antibiotic amoxicillin to others who were given a placebo.

The study used phone interviews to track patients' symptoms, like facial pain, congestion, problems sleeping, and loss of productivity.

Wash. U. primary care researcher Jane Garbutt says after 10 days, most patients groups got better—whether or not they had taken the antibiotic.

"We don't dispute for a minute that some people have bacterial infection and would do well with an antibiotic. The problem is we can't distinguish who those people are," Garbutt said.

Garbutt recommends a wait-and-see approach to treating sinus patients.

"They're going to get a lot better quite quickly, and in 10 days time they should be completely better," Garbutt said. "And if their symptoms are not starting to improve in the next three, four, five days, they need to be reassessed and possibly treated with an antibiotic at that point."

Garbutt says overuse of antibiotics in primary care has led to the development of drug-resistant bacteria.

She says in the U.S., sinus infections account for 1 in 5 antibiotic prescriptions.