Treatment of mild to moderate sinusitis

Arch Intern Med. 2012 Mar 26;172(6):510-3. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2012.253.


Background: The National Physicians Alliance (NPA)-initiated a project titled "Promoting Good Stewardship in Clinical Practice" to develop a list of the "Top 5" activities in primary care, where changes in practice could lead simultaneously to higher quality care and better use of finite clinical resources. The treatment of acute mild to moderate sinusitis was selected for the "Top 5" list because it is a common clinical problem. Evidence supports avoiding antibiotics early in the course of the illness, and doing so could markedly reduce costs.

Methods: We reviewed the results of meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials published in the past 10 years comparing antibiotic treatment with placebo and summarized the evidence regarding the benefits, harms, and costs of antibiotic treatment of acute mild to moderate sinusitis.

Results: Sinusitis is one of the most common diagnoses in primary care, accounting for 20 million visits annually in the United States and 15% to 21% of annual antibiotic prescriptions. In randomized controlled trials, cure or improvement 7 to 15 days after beginning treatment was statistically significantly more common among patients assigned to antibiotics compared with placebo, but the differences were small, ranging from a 7% to 14% higher rate of improvement with antibiotics. The rate of complications and recurrence did not differ between those treated with antibiotics and placebo. Adverse effects, primarily diarrhea, were 80% more common in the antibiotic compared with the placebo groups. In addition to adverse effects, overuse of antibiotics can also harm population health by increasing rates of antibiotic resistance

Conclusions: Antibiotics should not be prescribed for mild to moderate sinusitis within the first week of the illness. Avoiding antibiotics for acute sinusitis could reduce antibiotic adverse effects, antibiotic resistance, and the cost of health care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sinusitis / drug therapy*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents