Why some sinus infections won?t clear up, and what you can do about it

April 17, 2007
Volume 04    |   Issue 16

If you have a sinus infection, your doctor will probably prescribe an antibiotic. That?s wrong. Why? Because viruses, not bacteria, cause most acute sinus infections. And bacteria aren?t the typical cause of chronic sinusitis. Allergies and hormonal changes are to blame there.

And antibiotics won?t work for any of these conditions.

Not only that, you?re more likely to become antibiotic-resistant if you take them. Then, when you really need an antibiotic, there?s a good chance it won?t work. We all know that antibiotic-resistance has become very common.

Yet despite all this, antibiotics are the most frequently recommended treatment for both chronic and acute sinusitis. A recent four-year study found a very disturbing trend. The researchers in this study followed patients with sinus infections. They found that doctors gave antibiotics for sinusitis caused by allergies and hormones nearly 70% of the time.

But it gets worse. Doctors prescribed at least one antibiotic in more than 80% of visits for acute sinusitis. Remember, viruses cause most acute infections. What are these doctors thinking?

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They?re not.

Other studies show that doctors prescribe antibiotics more often than indicated. Doctors also prescribe inhaled steroids more often than necessary to treat acute (viral) sinusitis. The only time a prescribed treatment matches up with studies is with antihistamines. They work for allergic sinusitis.

So what can a good doctor do? Be more open to treating both the viral and bacterial causes of sinusitis. One way is by using herbs.

Ginger root, peppermint, and St. John?s wort, for instance, have both antiviral and antibacterial activity. And one of my favorite herbs, Usnea, has anti-inflammatory activity in the nasal passages. It?s also an antibacterial. You can find articles on Usnea on my website, which is available to all newsletter subscribers.

You can also get information on these and other herbs that are safe and effective against sinusitis at the American Botanical Council?s website. This non-profit organization brings scientific evidence on herbs to health professionals and the public. And when you visit their site, consider supporting ABC in their impeccable work.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


Sharp, HJ, et al, Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2007;133:260-265.

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