Take a chill pill: Why antibiotics don’t always help

Listen up, students!

You can finally stick it to all those school nurses/math professors who wouldn’t let you take a make-up exam for lack of a doctor’s note when you had the sniffles.

A number of studies have shown that the antibiotics often used to treat sinusitis make absolutely no difference when it comes to treatment.

In 2008, the BBC reported that 90% of patients with sinusitis in the UK are prescribed antibiotics. The article added that the results of an analysis of nine trials published in the medical journal The Lancet, shows that these antibiotics had no effect, even if the patient had been sick for more than seven days.

The timeline is the important factor here. The consensus used to be that a longer illness was a sign of a bacterial infection that would be susceptible to antibiotics, rather than a viral infection, in which case antibiotics have no effect. If you have a virus, the best thing to do is to don your fanciest flannel pajamas, and curl up in bed with the latest issue of Us Magazine and a steaming cup of tea. In other words: wait it out.

But length, it turns out, may be meaningless. The study looked at 2600 patients who had been suffering from sinusitis before the treatment. The results showed that 15 patients would need to be treated before one would be cured with antibiotics, indicating that time is not an effective gauge of whether or not antibiotics will be effective.

“If a patient comes to the GP and says they have had the complaint for seven to 10 days that’s not a good enough reason for giving them the antibiotic,” study leader Dr Jim Young, from the Basel Institute for Clinical Epidemiology in Switzerland, told the BBC.

To every student/ minimum wage employee: You’re welcome.

More recently, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association brought the point home by showing that in many cases, a placebo worked just as well as antibiotics when it comes to sinusitis treatment. The study observed 166 adults meeting the diagnostic criteria for sinusitis, who were given either amoxicillin or a placebo three times a day for 10 days, The New York Times reported in 2011.

The participants recorded their symptoms every other day. In the end, there was no significant difference between those given the placebo and those placed on antibiotics.

These findings come as good news to proponents of antibiotic restraint. The automatic reflex to treat with antibiotics has had serious consequences, namely the development of resistant strains of bacteria that have become more potent and dangerous over time.

Both the studies mentioned in the BBC and The New York Times mentioned that in cases of sinusitis, a patient should refrain from a doctor’s visit unless they’ve been sick for a week.

Still have questions? The CDC lays it all out here in a video slightly reminiscent of Sesame Street… before Cookie Monster got all healthy and ruined everything.

See A Video on: Snort. Sniffle. Sneeze. No Antibiotics Please!




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