Sinus Infection & Smart Antibiotic Use

Sinus Infection & Smart Antibiotic Use
A sinus infection (sinusitis) occurs when viruses or bacteria infect or inflame the sinuses (often during a cold). Our body’s response causes the sinus lining to swell, trapping fluids in the sinuses and allowing germs to grow. Mucus and pus fill up the nose and sinus cavities causing significant congestion, pain and pressure in the face, head or around the eyes.  

The cdc.gov provides a nice illustration of healthy sinuses and the blocked regions here.

Sinus infections are extremely common in both adults and children and can last for days or weeks in some cases. They can occur any time of year but are more common during the fall and winter. 

A word about germs

Most cases of sinusitis, around 90% in adults and 50-70% in children, are caused by viruses, not by bacteria. Antibiotics are useless in killing viruses. Allow me to repeat that: antibiotics do not fight infections caused by viruses like colds, flu, most sore throats and bronchitis. Therefore, the majority of sinus infections DO NOT require treatment with antibiotics. Your physician or urgent care provider can determine when an antibiotic may be necessary. 

This represents a paradigm shift in what many patients have come to expect from antibiotic prescribing practices in the past. In addition, informed health care providers now recognize that there are unintended consequences of overusing and overprescribing antibiotics for a simple head cold. 

Why the shift in prescribing antibiotics? Here are a few examples of undesirable, and sometimes serious, side effects that occur by overusing and overprescribing antibiotics:

  • Risk of antibiotic resistance. The more we prescribe unnecessary antibiotics to treat viral infections, the greater the risk of bacterial resistance and the more difficult it becomes to treat real bacterial infections in the future.
  • Growth of “super bugs”. Inappropriate antibiotic use promotes the present reality that enables the growth and spread of super-bugs—germs that mutate, multiply and survive commonly used antibiotics. Super bugs seem to thrive in antibiotic environments causing more harm and dangerous antibiotic-resistant infections.
  • Changes in your gut flora. Your intestines contain about 100 trillion bacteria strains. The natural balance of helpful bacteria, known as gut flora, supports immunity and proper digestion. It also can be thrown out of whack by antibiotics. 
As providers, we have become much more circumspect when evaluating the use of antibiotics, and so should you. With the cold and flu season approaching, keep prevention top of mind. Get your flu shot, and do not underestimate the power of hand washing!

Keeping you healthy,
Dr. Brian Coté CDC Illustration - Sinusitis Back  
  • Brian Coté, DO

    Brian Coté, DO

    Board certified in Emergency Medicine, Dr. Brian Cote has practiced at Holland Hospital for 20 years in both emergency medicine and urgent care. He's currently the Medical Director of Urgent Care. After completing his residency at Spectrum Health - Butterworth Campus, Dr. Cote decided to make west Michigan home. He continues to cultivate his passion of urgent care - enriching the lives of patient's in his care.

    All blogs by Brian Coté, DO

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