Sinus infections make comeback, treatment changing

It's that time of year again when sinus infections make a comeback.

But this year, there's a new breed of super bacteria developing and it's forcing doctors to change the way sinus infections are treated.

Stephanie Santino used to dread this time of year. During the fall and winter, sinus infections seemed to take over her life.

She says, "There were times where just literally sitting upright, that pain of holding your head upright was just really intense."

Like most people, Stephanie says nearly every time she went to the doctor for a sinus infection, she came home with antibiotics.

But starting this year, that's likely to change.

Dr. Subinoy Das is a sinus expert at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. He says, "For the vast, vast majority of people we give antibiotics, it's not really providing the benefit that we would have hoped."

In fact, it's actually making things worse. He says up to 90% of sinus infections are caused by a virus, so antibiotics are no help at all. 

But for decades doctors prescribed them anyway. And now some bacteria are becoming dangerously drug-resistant.

"We are creating a race of super-bacteria, for which we will not be able to treat," says Dr. Das.

To avoid that, new guidelines are in place this fall discouraging doctors from over- prescribing antibiotics.

Instead, Dr. Das says to first treat your sinus infection with an over-the-counter salt water rinse. They can be extremely effective. 

But, if your face swells, you have a high fever or your vision changes, go to the doctor.

Dr. Das says, "Seek medical attention early, but go with an open mind that 'I'm not going expecting an antibiotic.'"

Because chances are, you may not get one. After surgery to fix her sinuses, Stephanie now swears by salt water rinses to control the infections that used to control her. 

Das says only a small percentage of sinus infections can actually be treated with antibiotics. You should talk to your doctor about over-the-counter options that can help.

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