Sinus Infection? Antibiotics Are No Help

Published: September 7, 2012
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One of the most common complications of the common cold or flu is a sinus infection. In fact, millions of Americans each year suffer from acute or chronic sinusitis, and 90% of these are given antibiotics. As the study below notes, this helps minimally if at all in the short term, and clinical experience shows that the antibiotics make the sinusitis much worse in the long term. This is because most chronic sinusitis is caused by an underlying fungal infection, and the BACTERIAL INFECTION IS SECONDARY.

The symptoms: a stuffy nose; a thick, dark-colored nasal discharge; and head pain. Neither antibiotics nor steroid sprays offer much help to adults with sinus infections, a British study shows. During the study, patients who got no active therapy were just as likely to be helped as those who were given antibiotics. Steroid nasal sprays made little difference, although they seemed to help people with very mild nasal congestion and seemed to make things a little worse for those with very intense nasal congestion. The study does not definitively rule out some small effect of antibiotics. But that effect would be very small.

According to a study by Ian G. Williamson, MD, senior lecturer at the University of Southampton, England, "We are confident that if there is an effect of antibiotics on acute sinus infections, it is not very big—certainly not as big as people have been led to believe".

Williamson and colleagues studied 240 patients ages 16 and older whose symptoms suggested that they had a sinus infection caused by bacteria. Ten days later, patients who got no active therapy were just as likely to be helped as those who were given antibiotics. A decade ago, a carefully controlled study by Norwegian sinusitis expert Morten Lindbaeck, MD, PhD, at the University of Oslo showed that antibiotics had a detectable effect on bacterial sinus infections—but that the effect is quite modest.

What's wrong with just giving patients antibiotics? Williamson and Lindbaek both note that bacteria are becoming more and more resistant to antibiotic drugs. And antibiotics that are not effective spur the growth of drug-resistant bugs.

Williamson and colleagues report their findings in the Dec. 5 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. An editorial by Lindbaek appears in the same issue.

For chronic sinusitis, addressing the yeast overgrowth and using a special prescription nose spray will usually eliminate it. Using antibiotics worsens the sinusitis in the long run. How to eliminate chronic sinusitis (and the underlying Candida that causes it) is discussed at length in my book From Fatigued to Fantastic! For more information on addressing respiratory infections naturally, see "Addressing Respiratory Infections Without Antibiotics."

SOURCES: Williamson, I.G. Journal of the American Medical Association, Dec. 5, 2007; vol 298: pp 2487-2496. Lindbaek, M. The Journal of the American Medical Association, Dec. 5, 2007; vol 298: pp 2543-2544.

Jacob Teitelbaum, MD

is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of four research studies on their treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome From Fatigued to Fantastic! and his newer The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution.  Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health. 

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