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Sinus Infections & Antibiotics

December 12, 2007, 5:20 PM by Jaine Andrews

Sinus Infections & Antibiotics
This time of year, one of the most common complaints in KELOLAND doctor's offices is sinus pain and congestion.  And most of those patients want a prescription for an antibiotic to cure what ails them, but it may be time to let the man in the white coat be the doctor. 

There's nothing quite like the congestion in your nose, the pressure in your cheeks and the ache in your teeth to signal a sinus infection. But according to a new study, how you seek relief may need an overhaul. 

If the mere sight of a physician palpating lymph nodes and tapping on sinuses is enough to make you cringe in pain, chances are you've been exactly where this woman is--in a doctor's office eager to get relief from a sinus infection. 

Dr. Brad Hurby with Sanford Clinic Family Medicine says, "A sinus infection usually involves either a virus or a bacteria that's invaded these air pockets within your skull. It will produce fluid and puss and pain and pressure." 

Now you know why all that tapping and palpating hurts so much. 

Hruby says, "For many years, antibiotics were used to treat sinus infections." 

In fact, in 85 to 98 percent of cases, doctors have prescribed an antibiotic for sinus problems. But a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association questions that practice. 

Hruby says, "When they followed patients for two weeks, the patients that were on antibiotics, or not on antibiotics both did about the same." 

That said, Hruby says the study does have some weaknesses, and there's really no clear answer on antibiotic use for sinus infections. 

He says, "Most doctors think the length of symptoms are important in determining if this is a virus or a bacterial infection." 

If the pain lasts more than 10 days, it's likely caused by bacteria. So what's wrong with prescribing antibiotics for a viral infection. For one, they won't work. And second?

Hruby says, "The overuse of antibiotics, we believe, leads toward the development of resistant organisms and that's going to be a future problem, not only for doctor to treat, but also for patients to deal with." 

What may work are nasal steroid sprays. 

Hruby says, "Using a nasal spray and stuff like that early on in an infection can maybe prevent a more severe infection. And that was something interesting that cane out in the recent study." 

So what should you do to seek sinus relief? Doctors say try and over-the-counter nasal spray for a couple of days. If that doesn't work, it's probably time to see a doctor.

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