Background: The value of antibiotics in acute rhinosinusitis is uncertain. Although maxillary sinusitis is commonly diagnosed and treated in general practice, no effectiveness studies have been done on unselected primary-care patients. We used a randomised, placebo-controlled design to test the hypothesis that there would be an improvement associated with amoxycillin treatment for acute maxillary sinusitis patients presenting to general practice.
Methods: Adult patients with suspected acute maxillary sinusitis were referred by general practitioners for radiographs of the maxillary sinus. Those with radiographic abnormalities (n = 214) were randomly assigned treatment with amoxycillin (750 mg three times daily for 7 days; n = 108) or placebo (n = 106). Clinical course was assessed after 1 week and 2 weeks, and reported relapses and complications were recorded during the following year.
Findings: After 2 weeks, symptoms had improved substantially or disappeared in 83% of patients in the study group and 77% of patients taking placebo. Amoxycillin did not influence the clinical course of maxillary sinusitis nor the frequency of relapses during the 1-year follow-up. Radiographs had no prognostic value, nor were they an effect modifier. Side-effects were recorded in 28% of patients given amoxycillin and in 9% of those taking placebo (p < 0.01). The occurrence of relapses was similar in both groups (21 vs 17%) during the follow-up year.
Interpretation: Antibiotic treatment did not improve the clinical course of acute maxillary sinusitis presenting to general practice. For these patients, an initial radiographic examination is not necessary and initial management can be limited to symptomatic treatment. Whether antibiotics are necessary in more severe cases warrants further study.