Sinus problems: It’s usually best to watch and wait rather than reach for an antibiotic, from the November 2015 Harvard Men's Health Watch

The sinuses (the hollow spaces behind the nose) are prone to infection by various microorganisms. In a sinus infection, also called sinusitis, the sensitive lining of the sinuses swells up and gushes mucus, triggering nasal stuffiness, a runny nose, and facial pain. Once upon a time, sinus sufferers headed straight to a doctor to get an antibiotic, but we now know this is usually a waste of time. Most cases of sinusitis are associated with viral infections, which are bulletproof to antibiotics.

Taking simple steps to ease symptoms while the body clears the infection makes the most sense, according to the November 2015 issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch. "Everybody thinks of antibiotics as the magic cure-all, but the vast majority of people will get better without ever having to consider an antibiotic," says Dr. Jeffrey Linder, a primary care physician and associate professor of medicine at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Basic self-care steps to soothe symptoms include:

  • saline (salt water) rinses, using either a neti pot or prepackaged saline nasal sprays
  • decongestants, either in nasal spray or pill form
  • pain relievers — any kind is fine, but nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), or aspirin will ease inflammation in addition to pain.

"If you have been doing all the right things for 10 days and you're not getting better, then it's totally reasonable to call your doctor and ask about an antibiotic," Dr. Linder says.

Read the full-length article: "Inflamed sinuses: It's best to watch and wait"