My sinuses are hurting!! Will antibiotics help?


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One of our more frequent reasons for visiting Student Health Services is sinus infection.  You wake up with pain behind the eyes, a congested nose, maybe some ear fullness and irritated throat.  Could this be an infection in your sinuses?  Sure.  Does it need antibiotics?  That is unclear.  Just as we have been learning about many sore throats, coughs, and other upper respiratory illnesses, a recent study shows that antibiotics may not be needed for the majority of sinus infections. 

One difficulty for your health caregiver is that it is difficult to determine whether a sinus infection is viral or bacterial.  Overall, bacterial sinusitis is uncommon, and is the only infection where antibiotics are needed.  However, neither the color of mucus nor the amount of pain separates the two types.   

Most important factors:

  • Fever – temp. higher than 100.4° F
  • More than10 days of symptoms
  • Symptoms that persist despite over-the-counter medicines
  • Multiple sinus infections in the past year

In the meantime, if you have sinus pain this morning for the first time, check out this site from the CDC for some tips for managing your symptoms at home or in the dorm. 

Also, don’t forget good handwashing!

Roger Miller, MD (OSU Student Health Services

Source: JAMA. 2012;307(7):685-692.