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Medical Treatment for Acute Sinusitis Treatment & Management

  • Author: Ted L Tewfik, MD; Chief Editor: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA  more...
Updated: May 04, 2016

Medical Care

The primary goals of management of acute sinusitis are to eradicate the infection, decrease the severity and duration of symptoms, and prevent complications. Most patients with acute sinusitis are treated in the primary care setting. Further evaluation by an otolaryngologist is recommended when (1) continued deterioration occurs with appropriate antibiotic therapy, (2) episodes of sinusitis recur, (3) symptoms persist after 2 courses of antibiotic therapy, or (4) comorbid immunodeficiency, nosocomial infection, or complications of sinusitis are present. The goals of management of acute sinusitis are the provision of adequate drainage and appropriate systemic treatment of the likely bacterial pathogens.

The Joint Task Force on Practice Parameters for Allergy and Immunology suggests assessing response to symptoms after 3-5 days of therapy and continuing for an additional 7 days if there is improvement. Combining an intranasal corticosteroid with an antibiotic reduces symptoms more effectively than antibiotics alone.[6]

Drainage of the involved sinus can be achieved both medically and surgically (see the Medication and Surgical Care sections). Aggressively treat patients in intensive care who develop acute sinusitis in order to avoid septic complications. Consider removal of nasotracheal and nasogastric tubes and promote drainage either medically or surgically.

A retrospective cohort study by Pynnonen et al, conducted at a single academic institution, suggested that antibiotics are being overused in the treatment of patients with mild acute sinusitis of short duration. The investigators found that 66% of such patients were being given antibiotics, with antibiotic use varying according to the individual provider, the provider’s specialty (with emergency medicine providers tending to use more antibiotics), and whether a medical trainee was present.[7]

A study by Fleming-Dutra et al found that, based on the 2010-2011 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, sinusitis was responsible for 56 ambulatory antibiotic prescriptions per 1000 population in the United States, the highest rate of such prescriptions for a single diagnosis.[8]


A clinical practice guideline update from the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery provides new recommendations for clinicians on the diagnosis and treatment of adult rhinosinusitis. Among those pertaining to acute rhinosinusitis are recommendations that clinicians distinguish acute bacterial rhinosinusitis from acute rhinosinusitis resulting from viral upper respiratory infections and noninfectious conditions. It is also recommended that clinicians do the following[9] :

  • Offer watchful waiting (without antibiotics) or prescribe initial antibiotic therapy for adults with uncomplicated acute bacterial rhinosinusitis
  • Prescribe amoxicillin with or without clavulanate as first-line therapy for 5-10 days in most adults if acute bacterial rhinosinusitis is being treated with an antibiotic
  • Reassess the patient to confirm acute bacterial rhinosinusitis, exclude other causes of illness, and detect complications if the patient worsens or fails to improve with the initial management option by 7 days after diagnosis or worsens during the initial management; if acute bacterial rhinosinusitis is confirmed in a patient being managed with observation, antibiotic therapy should commence; if the patient is already being managed with an antibiotic, the antibiotic should be changed
  • Distinguish chronic rhinosinusitis and recurrent acute rhinosinusitis from isolated episodes of acute bacterial rhinosinusitis and other causes of sinonasal symptoms
  • Assess the patient with chronic rhinosinusitis or recurrent acute rhinosinusitis for multiple chronic conditions that would modify management, such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, immunocompromised state, and ciliary dyskinesia

Surgical Care

Sinus puncture and irrigation techniques allow for a surgical means of removal of thick purulent sinus secretions. The purpose of surgical drainage is to enhance mucociliary flow and provide material for culture and sensitivity. A surgical means of sinus drainage should be used when appropriate medical therapy has failed to control the infection and prolonged or slowly resolving symptoms result or when complications of sinusitis occur. Another indication for sinus puncture is to obtain culture material to guide antibiotic selection if empiric therapy has failed or antibiotic choice is limited. This is particularly important in patients who are immunocompromised or in intensive care. Sinusitis can be a prominent source of sepsis in these patients. In adults, sinus puncture can usually be achieved using local anesthesia; however, in children, a general anesthetic is usually necessary.

In today's era of minimally invasive surgical techniques, sinus endoscopy is commonly used to achieve sinus drainage. It offers the advantages of (1) being able to open multiple sinuses or to decompress the orbit in cases of complications and (2) allowing the surgeon to open the natural ostia of the involved sinuses.

The techniques and complications of open and endoscopic sinus surgical approaches are discussed in articles dealing with their individual surgical management.

A study by Patel et al suggested that after complicated acute pediatric sinusitis resolves following initial medical or surgical intervention, few patients require subsequent surgical treatment. The investigators reviewed the records of 86 children and adolescents, aged 2 months to 18 years, with either orbital (80 patients) or intracranial (6 patients) complications of acute sinusitis; the children were treated either surgically (27 patients) or medically (59 patients) during the acute phase of the disease. The study determined that four of the patients treated surgically and five of those treated medically needed surgery following the initial resolution of their sinusitis; eight of the nine patients required it because medical therapy failed for persistent rhinosinusitis, and one needed it after a second complication developed.[10]



Ophthalmological or neurosurgical consultation should be obtained when either orbital or intracranial complications develop.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Ted L Tewfik, MD Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Professor of Pediatric Surgery, McGill University Faculty of Medicine; Senior Staff, Montreal Children's Hospital, Montreal General Hospital, and Royal Victoria Hospital

Ted L Tewfik, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Society of Pediatric Otolaryngology, Canadian Society of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Stephen G Batuello, MD Consulting Staff, Colorado ENT Specialists

Stephen G Batuello, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, American Association for Physician Leadership, American Medical Association, Colorado Medical Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA Professor of Otolaryngology, Dentistry, and Engineering, University of Colorado School of Medicine

Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, American Head and Neck Society

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for: Cerescan;RxRevu;SymbiaAllergySolutions<br/>Received income in an amount equal to or greater than $250 from: Symbia<br/>Received from Allergy Solutions, Inc for board membership; Received honoraria from RxRevu for chief medical editor; Received salary from Medvoy for founder and president; Received consulting fee from Corvectra for senior medical advisor; Received ownership interest from Cerescan for consulting; Received consulting fee from Essiahealth for advisor; Received consulting fee from Carespan for advisor; Received consulting fee from Covidien for consulting.

Additional Contributors

Jack A Coleman, MD Consulting Staff, Franklin Surgical Associates

Jack A Coleman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy, American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, American Bronchoesophagological Association, American College of Surgeons, The Triological Society, American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery, Association of Military Surgeons of the US

Disclosure: Received honoraria from Accarent, Inc. for speaking and teaching.


Melvin D Schloss, MD, FRCSC, Director of Pediatric Otolaryngology, Professor, Department of Otolaryngology, McGill University Faculty of Medicine, Canada

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Steven E Sobol, MD, FRCSC, MSc, FAAP Assistant Professor, Director of Pediatric Otolaryngology, Department of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, Emory University School of Medicine; Otolaryngologist-In-Chief, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston

Steven E Sobol, MD, FRCSC, MSc, FAAP is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

  1. Bishai WR. Issues in the management of bacterial sinusitis. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2002 Dec. 127(6 Suppl):S3-9. [Medline].

  2. Ray NF, Baraniuk JN, Thamer M, Rinehart CS, Gergen PJ, Kaliner M. Healthcare expenditures for sinusitis in 1996: contributions of asthma, rhinitis, and other airway disorders. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1999 Mar. 103(3 Pt 1):408-14. [Medline].

  3. [Guideline] Rosenfeld RM, Andes D, Bhattacharyya N, Cheung D, Eisenberg S, Ganiats TG, et al. Clinical practice guideline: adult sinusitis. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2007 Sep. 137(3 Suppl):S1-31. [Medline].

  4. Khalid AN, Ladha KS, Luong AU, Quraishi SA. Association of Vitamin D Status and Acute Rhinosinusitis: Results From the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2006. Medicine (Baltimore). 2015 Oct. 94 (40):e1447. [Medline]. [Full Text].

  5. Savolainen S, Jousimies-Somer H, Karjalainen J. Do simple laboratory tests help in etiologic diagnosis in acute maxillary sinusitis?. Acta Otolaryngol Suppl. 1997. 529:144-7. [Medline].

  6. Georgy MS, Peters AT. Chapter 8: Rhinosinusitis. Allergy Asthma Proc. 2012 May-Jun. 33 Suppl 1:S24-7. [Medline].

  7. Pynnonen MA, Lynn S, Kern HE, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of acute sinusitis in the primary care setting: A retrospective cohort. Laryngoscope. 2015 May 22. [Medline].

  8. Fleming-Dutra KE, Hersh AL, Shapiro DJ, et al. Prevalence of Inappropriate Antibiotic Prescriptions Among US Ambulatory Care Visits, 2010-2011. JAMA. 2016 May 3. 315 (17):1864-1873. [Medline].

  9. Rosenfeld RM, Piccirillo JF, Chandrasekhar SS, et al. Clinical practice guideline (update): adult sinusitis. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2015 Apr. 152 (2 Suppl):S1-S39. [Medline].

  10. Patel RG, Daramola OO, Linn D, et al. Do you need to operate following recovery from complications of pediatric acute sinusitis?. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol. 2014 Jun. 78(6):923-5. [Medline].

  11. Slack CL, Dahn KA, Abzug MJ, Chan KH. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria in pediatric chronic sinusitis. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2001 Mar. 20(3):247-50. [Medline].

  12. Sobol SE, Marchand J, Tewfik TL, Manoukian JJ, Schloss MD. Orbital complications of sinusitis in children. J Otolaryngol. 2002 Jun. 31(3):131-6. [Medline].

  13. Chandler JR, Langenbrunner DJ, Stevens ER. The pathogenesis of orbital complications in acute sinusitis. Laryngoscope. 1970 Sep. 80(9):1414-28. [Medline].

  14. Boto LR, Calado C, Vieira M, Camilo C, Abecasis F, Campos AR, et al. [Subdural empyema due to gemella morbillorum as a complication of acute sinusitis]. Acta Med Port. 2011 May-Jun. 24(3):475-80. [Medline].

  15. Fukushima K, Noda M, Saito Y, Ikeda T. Streptococcus sanguis meningitis: report of a case and review of the literature. Intern Med. 2012. 51(21):3073-6. [Medline].

  16. [Guideline] Slavin RG, Spector SL, Bernstein IL, Kaliner MA, Kennedy DW, Virant FS, et al. The diagnosis and management of sinusitis: a practice parameter update. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2005 Dec. 116(6 Suppl):S13-47. [Medline].

  17. Taylor JA, Weber W, Standish L, et al. Efficacy and safety of echinacea in treating upper respiratory tract infections in children: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2003 Dec 3. 290(21):2824-30. [Medline].

Air-fluid level (arrow) in the maxillary sinus suggests sinusitis.
Table 1. Dosage, Route, and Spectrum of Activity of Commonly Used First-Line Antibiotics*
Antibiotic Dosage Streptococcus pneumoniae Haemophilus influenzae Moraxella catarrhalis Anaerobic bacteria
Sensitive Intermediate Resistant
Amoxicillin 500 mg PO tid +++ ++ + ++ + +
Clarithromycin 250-500 mg PO bid ++ ++ + ++ +++ +
Azithromycin 500 mg PO first day, then

250 mg/d PO for 4 days

++ ++ + ++ +++ +
Table 2. Dosage, Route, and Spectrum of Activity of Commonly Used Second-Line Antibiotics*
Antibiotic Dosage Streptococcus pneumoniae Haemophilus influenzae Moraxella catarrhalis Anaerobic bacteria
Sensitive Intermediate Resistant
Amoxicillin/clavulanate 500 mg PO tid +++ ++ + +++ +++ +++
Cefuroxime 250-500 mg PO bid +++ ++ + +++ ++ ++



200 mg PO bid

400 mg/d PO













Ciprofloxacin 500-750 mg PO bid ++ + + ++ +++ +
Levofloxacin 500 mg/d PO +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++
Trovafloxacin 200 mg/d PO +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++
Clindamycin 300 mg PO tid +++ +++ +++ - - +++
Metronidazole 500 mg PO tid - - - - - +++
Table 3. Dosage, Route, and Spectrum of Activity of Commonly Used Intravenous Antibiotics*
Antibiotic Dosage Streptococcus pneumoniae Haemophilus influenzae Moraxella catarrhalis Gram-negative Anaerobic bacteria
Piperacillin 3-4 g IV q4-6h +++ + - +++ +++
Piperacillin/tazobactam 3.375 g IV q6h +++ +++ +++ +++ ++
Ticarcillin 3 g IV q4h +++ - - +++ ++
Ticarcillin/clavulanate 3.1 g IV q4h +++ +++ - +++ ++
Imipenem 500 mg IV q6h +++ +++ +++ +++ +++
Meropenem 1 g IV q8h +++ +++ +++ +++ ++
Cefuroxime 1 g IV q8h +++ +++ +++ ++ ++
Ceftriaxone 2 g IV bid +++ +++ +++ +++ ++
Cefotaxime 2 g IV q4-6h +++ +++ +++ +++ ++
Ceftazidime 2 g IV q8h +++ +++ +++ +++ ++
Gentamicin 1.7 mg/kg IV q8h - +++ +++ ++ -
Tobramycin 1.7 mg/kg IV q8h - +++ +++ ++ -
Vancomycin 1 g IV q6-12h +++ - - - ++
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