COLUMBUS — Sinus infection sufferers may see a change during their doctors appointments this cold and allergy season as new national guidelines urge doctors to do less prescribing and more educating.
As many as 45 million people in the U.S. suffer from chronic sinus infections each year. After decades of overprescribing antibiotics, at a cost of billions of dollars, physicians are being asked to reconsider their treatment approach.
According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the reasoning is simple. Up to 90 percent of all sinus infections are caused by a virus, which antibiotics can’t treat and can actually make worse by killing healthy bacteria and strengthening the immunity of dangerous bacteria found in the sinus cavity.
“For patients who suffer from viral sinus infections, home remedies and over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen, decongestants or nasal rinses can be enough to manage their symptoms,” said Dr. Subinoy Das, director of the Sinus and Allergy Center at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
“We’re finding for the vast majority of sinus infection sufferers, the standard treatment approach of prescribing antibiotics is rarely helpful.”
Das, also an assistant professor of otolaryngology, and colleagues at Wexner Medical Center are currently working to develop a test that may help eliminate overprescribing of antibiotics and reserve potent treatments for the more serious bacterial cases saving time and money.
If successful, the test will involve a simple nasal swab and results will identify exactly what type of sinus infection is present.
“After decades of overprescribing antibiotics, we have reached a point where we are starting to see super-bacteria, or bacteria that are becoming more and more resistant to modern-day treatments, said Das.
Not only will this test minimize the use of unnecessary antibiotics, it will also provide physicians with a new tool to determine the exact infection present, making it possible for us to tailor treatment if bacteria is present, in turn giving patients much more effective therapy.
While a vast majority of viral infections resolve on their own, about 10 to 15 percent of sinus infections are bacterial and require further therapy. Signs of a serious bacterial infection include chronic sinus infections that occur more than once a year or cause severe fever, facial swelling or impaired vision.
In some cases, patients may develop chronic sinus infections due to blockages in the sinus cavities. In those cases, surgery can offer relief.
For patients who qualify, surgery can be very effective in addressing blockages, leading to improved airflow and drainage, said Das. The recovery process is fairly simple; since the surgery takes place through the nostrils there’s typically no bruising or swelling, and many people return to work in a few days.
Sinus infections affect one in seven Americans each year and are the number one chronic illness among 18-to-45-year-olds.