As an acupuncture practitioner, I’m constantly amazed by the extent to which doctors prescribe – and patients demand – antibiotics.
A classic example is the use of antibiotics to treat sinus infections. A new study, conducted at the University of Southampton in England, has highlighted how pointless this practice actually is. The study found that people suffering from facial pain and a runny nose with greenish or yellowish mucous – the classic signs of a sinus infection – generally improved within two weeks — whether they took the antibiotic amoxicillin, a steroid nose spray, or a fake (placebo) medicine.
The leader of the study, Dr. Ian Williamson, said that the results should lead to a “reconsideration of antibiotic use for acute sinusitis. The current view that antibiotics are effective can now be challenged, particularly for the routine cases which physicians treat.”
An estimated 31 million Americans suffer from sinus infections each year, and both antibiotics and steroid sprays are commonly used for treating them, with no apparent benefit. In addition, these drugs can often have harmful side effects.
Interestingly, the American College of Physicians issued guidelines in 2001 which advise against using antibiotics for most sinus infections in otherwise healthy people. They also make the point that this type of indiscriminate and inappropriate overuse of antibiotics is to blame for the growing problem of bacteria resistant to drugs.
In light of this new evidence, the ACP are now considering updating the guidelines to say that recent evidence reaffirms the drugs have little impact of sinus infections.
However, whether this message will make any difference to the doctors who overprescribe antibiotics for almost any infection, or patients who demand them is hard to say. Based on what I saw this past cold and flu season, it doesn’t appear that it does. I saw many patients without any clear sign of a severe bacterial infection receive antibiotics without a second’s hesitation or consideration of their significant potential side effects. This troubles me, and given the huge increase we have seen in the prevalence of drug resistant bugs (MRSA for one), it should trouble us all.
In our clinic we use a combination of acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and a homecare program. I have found that when used together, these can provide relief from even the most stubborn chronic sinus conditions.
I would urge anyone who has a sinus infection, to heed the advice of the American College of Physicians, and regard antibiotics as a selective weapon, which is meant to be saved for the times when you really do need them.