New Study Finds Doctors Overprescribing Antibiotics For Sinus Infections

Doctors are unnecessarily prescribing antibiotics for sinus infections. According to the study published in the March issue of Archives of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, US, antibiotics were prescribed for 82 per cent of acute sinus infections and nearly 70 per cent of chronic sinus infections.

This is a shocking finding as antibiotics can only kill bacteria and most sinus infections are caused by viruses, allergies or hormonal changes.

The study, by Hadley J. Sharp and colleagues at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, US, used national data from 1999 and 2002 to determine the drugs that were prescribed for sinus infections by general practitioners, outpatient and emergency departments. The data came from 2 national surveys by the National Center of Health Statistics and was representative of the US population.

There are 2 types of sinus infections: acute and chronic. Acute sinusitis occurs for up to 4 weeks and is caused by infectious agents. Chronic sinusitis is usually defined as an infection with symptoms that are persistent for more than 12 weeks. It can be caused by allergies, hormonal changes or facial anatomy.

There are currently no effective drugs for chronic sinusitis. According to Dr. Donald A. Leopold, chairman of the department of otolaryngology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, antibiotics are the best of a bad lot.

Many patients would call up their doctors and demand for specific antibiotics that may give them relief. They are aware of these drugs. They want prompt relief from the annoying symptoms of sinusitis. It’s no wonder why doctors are giving in to their demands.

Although there are several tests to find out whether a sinus infection is caused by bacteria, they are often expensive and lengthy. The first test is an endoscopy, which involves inserting a small tube-like instrument into the nose to collect a sample of mucus from the sinus cavities. The second test is a nasal cytology, whereby a swab of mucus is taken from the lining of the nose to be examined. The third is taking an x-tray.

It is often difficult for doctors to determine the cause of a sinus infection just from observation. Even specialist doctors are not able to diagnose the specific cause without carrying out any tests. The symptoms of sinus infections are similar whether it’s caused by bacteria, virus, allergy or other factors.

On the prevalent use of antibiotics, the researchers suggest that doctors could be treating secondary infections. Another possible explanation is doctors think that antibiotics work when their patients get better taking them. However, many infections resolve with or without treatment.

The researchers are concerned about the overuse of antibiotics giving rise to drug resistance and virulence of infectious bacteria. Although the public are aware of the increasing antibiotic resistance, many sinusitis sufferers are likely to continue demanding for antibiotics.