Impact of first-line vs second-line antibiotics for the treatment of acute uncomplicated sinusitis

JAMA. 2001 Oct 17;286(15):1849-56. doi: 10.1001/jama.286.15.1849.


Context: Studies suggest little benefit in relief of acute sinusitis symptoms from the use of newer and more expensive (second-line) antibiotics instead of older and less expensive (first-line) antibiotics. However, researchers have failed to include development of complications and cost of care in their analyses.

Objective: To compare the effectiveness and cost of first-line with second-line antibiotics for the treatment of acute uncomplicated sinusitis in adults.

Design, setting, and patients: Retrospective cohort study using a pharmaceutical database containing demographic, clinical (International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision), treatment, and charge information for 29 102 adults with a diagnosis of acute sinusitis receiving initial antibiotic treatment between July 1, 1996, and June 30, 1997.

Main outcome measures: Absence of additional claim for an antibiotic in the 28 days after the initial antibiotic, presence of a claim for a second antibiotic, serious complications of sinusitis, and direct charges and use for the acute sinusitis treatment.

Results: There were 17 different antibiotics prescribed in this study. The majority (59.5%) of patients received 1 of the first-line antibiotics. The overall success rate was 90.4% (95% confidence interval [CI], 90.0%-90.8%). The success rate for the 17 329 patients who received a first-line antibiotic was 90.1% and for the 11 773 patients who received a second-line antibiotic was 90.8%, a difference of 0.7% (95% CI, 0.01%-1.40%; P<.05). There were 2 cases of periorbital cellulitis, one in each treatment group. The average total direct charge for patients receiving a first-line antibiotic was $68.98 and a second-line antibiotic was $135.17, a difference of $66.19 (95% CI, $64.95-$67.43; P<.001). This difference was due entirely to the difference in charge of antibiotics and not other charges, such as professional fees, laboratory tests, or emergency department visits.

Conclusions: Patients treated with a first-line antibiotic for acute uncomplicated sinusitis did not have clinically significant differences in outcomes vs those treated with a second-line antibiotic. However, cost of care was significantly higher for patients treated with a second-line antibiotic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / economics*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Drug Utilization
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sinusitis / classification
  • Sinusitis / drug therapy*
  • Sinusitis / economics
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents