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Allergies : Antibiotics May Not Be Best Treatment for Sinus Infection

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

Special to The Washington Post

When you have a sinus infection, the first thing you want is relief from your pain. If you're like most people, you want your doctor to prescribe an antibiotic to speed that process. And the last thing you want is to be told to just wait it out.

But a study released Tuesday adds to the growing body of science suggesting that with some infections, including those of the sinuses, antibiotics aren't the best course of treatment and that waiting it out may indeed be the best approach after all.

Overuse of antibiotics is considered an important and growing public-health problem, as disease-causing bacteria continue to develop resistance to the drugs we rely on to kill them. According to the new study, 1-in-5 prescriptions for antibiotics in the United States are for sinus infections.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis report in the Feb. 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association that in their study of 166 adults with sinus infections, those who were given the antibiotic amoxicillin didn't feel better any faster than those who received a placebo. People in both groups experienced about the same amount of relief after three days.

"There is now a considerable body of evidence ... that antibiotics provide little if any benefit for patients with clinically diagnosed acute rhinosinusitis," the researchers wrote. "Yet, antibiotic treatment for upper respiratory tract infections is often both expected by patients and prescribed by physicians."

Jay Piccirillo, one of the study's authors, said researchers chose the three-day mark because, while it's well-established in the scientific literature that most sinus infections are resolved by 10 days, with or without antibiotics, they wanted to see whether antibiotics hastened resolution.

If their work had shown that antibiotics made people feel much better by Day 3, he said, using the drugs might have been shown to be worthwhile.

Here's a concern:

Overuse of antibiotics is considered a growing public-health problem, as disease-causing bacteria continue to develop resistance to the drugs we rely on to kill them.

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