Antibiotics for acute maxillary sinusitis in adults

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Feb 11;(2):CD000243. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000243.pub3.


Background: Sinusitis is one of the most common diagnoses among adults in ambulatory care, accounting for 15% to 21% of all adult outpatient antibiotic prescriptions. However, the role of antibiotics for sinusitis is controversial.

Objectives: To assess the effects of antibiotics in adults with acute maxillary sinusitis by comparing antibiotics with placebo, antibiotics from different classes and the side effects of different treatments.

Search methods: We searched CENTRAL 2013, Issue 2, MEDLINE (1946 to March week 3, 2013), EMBASE (1974 to March 2013), SIGLE (OpenSIGLE, later OpenGrey (accessed 15 January 2013)), reference lists of the identified trials and systematic reviews of placebo-controlled studies. We also searched for ongoing trials via and the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP). We imposed no language or publication restrictions.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing antibiotics with placebo or antibiotics from different classes for acute maxillary sinusitis in adults. We included trials with clinically diagnosed acute sinusitis, confirmed or not by imaging or bacterial culture.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently screened search results, extracted data and assessed trial quality. We calculated risk ratios (RRs) for differences between intervention and control groups in whether the treatment failed or not. All measures are presented with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). We conducted the meta-analyses using either the fixed-effect or random-effects model. In meta-analyses of the placebo-controlled studies, we combined data across antibiotic classes. Primary outcomes were clinical failure rates at 7 to 15 days and 16 to 60 days follow-up. We used GRADEpro to assess the quality of the evidence.

Main results: We included 63 studies in this updated review; nine placebo-controlled studies involving 1915 participants (seven of the studies clearly conducted in primary care settings) and 54 studies comparing different classes of antibiotics (10 different comparisons). Five studies at low risk of bias comparing penicillin or amoxicillin to placebo provided information on the main outcome: clinical failure rate at 7 to 15 days follow-up, defined as a lack of full recovery or improvement, for participants with symptoms lasting at least seven days. In these studies antibiotics decreased the risk of clinical failure (pooled RR of 0.66, 95% CI 0.47 to 0.94, 1084 participants randomised, 1058 evaluated, moderate quality evidence). However, the clinical benefit was small. Cure or improvement rates were high in both the placebo group (86%) and the antibiotic group (91%) in these five studies. When clinical failure was defined as a lack of full recovery (n = five studies), results were similar: antibiotics decreased the risk of failure (pooled RR of 0.73, 95% CI 0.63 to 0.85, high quality evidence) at 7 to 15 days follow-up.Adverse effects in seven of the nine placebo-controlled studies (comparing penicillin, amoxicillin, azithromycin or moxicillin to placebo) were more common in antibiotic than in placebo groups (median of difference between groups 10.5%, range 2% to 23%). However, drop-outs due to adverse effects were rare in both groups: 1.5% in antibiotic groups and 1% in control groups.In the 10 head-to-head comparisons, none of the antibiotic preparations were superior to another. However, amoxicillin-clavulanate had significantly more drop-outs due to adverse effects than cephalosporins and macrolides.

Authors' conclusions: There is moderate evidence that antibiotics provide a small benefit for clinical outcomes in immunocompetent primary care patients with uncomplicated acute sinusitis. However, about 80% of participants treated without antibiotics improved within two weeks. Clinicians need to weigh the small benefits of antibiotic treatment against the potential for adverse effects at both the individual and general population levels.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Maxillary Sinusitis / drug therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents