skip to Main Content

Do I Need Antibiotics For A Sinus Infection?

Sinus infections can be extremely frustrating, especially when you have a headache and facial pain that doesn’t go away, coupled with the inability to breathe through your nose. You want immediate relief, but unfortunately, it takes at least a few days to start feeling better. You may think you need to go to the doctor and get antibiotics for a sinus infection, but this isn’t always the case. 

In the winter months, sinus infections, colds, bronchitis, pneumonia, the flu, and other respiratory infections are common. Patients think that if they come down with an illness, they will require antibiotics. However, most sinus infections don’t require antibiotics. 

Two Types of Sinus Infections 

Let’s differentiate between acute and chronic sinus infections. Acute sinus infections can last up to 4 weeks. If you are experiencing sinus infection symptoms for longer than 2 weeks, it doesn’t mean you have a bad case of sinusitis – this is normal. If you experience symptoms for longer than 4 weeks, this can be considered subacute; anything that lasts longer than 12 weeks is considered chronic.

Now, let’s differentiate between bacteria and viruses. Either of the two can infect the body, and each warrants a different course of treatment. Bacterial infections require antibiotics, while viral infections do not; they resolve themselves. All you can do in the latter case is to drink plenty of fluids, rest, and take decongestants. The majority of cases are viral, in which case your doctor can’t prescribe you with anything other than decongestants. 

What Happens When Unnecessary Antibiotics Are Prescribed?

Research shows that even bacterial infections can clear up on their own without antibiotics within one to two weeks. This means that the majority of the time, antibiotics are unnecessarily prescribed. Of all sinus infections, 85% clear up on their own, while only 15% do not. This 15% is the population that needs antibiotics. 

Consuming antibiotics, even when you need them, increases side effects and bacterial resistance rates. This means that the more antibiotics prescribed, the more the bacteria will adapt to become resistant to that specific antibiotic. And there are only so many antibiotics to go around, so resistance should not be taken lightly. That’s why the overprescription of antibiotics is a public health emergency

When Do I Actually Need Antibiotics For A Sinus Infection? 

There are several guidelines for determining if a patient actually needs antibiotics for a sinus infection. If you have thick, colorful (green, yellow) nasal discharge and/or facial pain for at least 10 days, you meet the criteria. This does not mean if you have a slightly yellow or clear nasal discharge for 10 days; having discharge from the nose for at least 4 weeks is normal in the case of sinus infections.

The second criterion is if your symptoms have improved but then got worse again, even if it’s been less than 10 days. This is referred to as ‘double worsening’ and is a common scenario in bacterial infections. However, even then, you may want to follow what doctors suggest as ‘watchful waiting’. Wait 2 weeks and see if symptoms got better. Use over-the-counter medications and supportive care (nasal irrigation, steroid sprays, decongestants, pain medications), as they often do the trick.

Make an Appointment
Call Us to Schedule an Appointment: (817) 332-4060
Back To Top