It's another case where you have to wonder just how the "standard care" became the standard care in the first place.
Show up at your doctor's office with a sinus infection, and odds are good you'll walk out with a 10-day (or longer) prescription for the antibiotic amoxicillin.
That's the standard care -- but the latest research confirms what should already be obvious to your doctor: Since most sinus infections are caused by viruses, antibiotics are outright worthless and flat-out unnecessary.
But before I get into that, let me explain a little about how your doctor knows you have a sinus infection. He has a checklist of symptoms called the Sinonasal Outcome Test-16 -- or SNOT-16 for short.
(Who says doctors don't have a sense of humor?)
Reach a certain SNOT score based on your symptoms, and you've got a sinus infection.
So starting with this test, researchers found 166 SNOT-ty patients and randomly assigned them to either 10 days of amoxicillin or a placebo.
After those 10 days were up, 78 percent of those on the antibiotic felt better. That might sound like a highly effective treatment -- until you see the 80 percent who got better on nothing more than a sugar pill.
There was also no difference at all in how many days of work the patients missed, how satisfied they were with their care, how much care they received, or how often they relapsed.
So the drug did nothing for the infection -- but that doesn't mean it did nothing at all. Odds are, that drug did quite a bit.
Each unnecessary antibiotic treatment is a chance for bacteria to learn to resist it, and the overuse of these meds for conditions like sinus infections has helped create powerful and deadlier strains of common bacteria.
So while those drugs might be cheap, they come with a huge cost for society.
And that's why the researchers behind the new study are calling on docs to take a new approach -- one that can only be called common sense: Instead of rushing to the prescription pad every time someone walks in with a high SNOT score, wait.
If it goes away on its own, great.
And if it doesn't, THEN -- and only then -- is it time to consider bringing out the big guns, like antibiotics.