Acute Sinusitis

Learn About Acute Sinusitis

CMAJ. 1997 Mar 15;156 Suppl 6:S1-14.

Low DE, Desrosiers M, McSherry J, Garber G, Williams JW Jr, Remy H, Fenton RS, Forte V, Balter M, Rotstein C, Craft C, Dubois J, Harding G, Schloss M, Miller M, McIvor RA, Davidson RJ.
University of Toronto, Ont.


To develop guidelines for the diagnosis and management of acute sinusitis.


Diagnostic clinical criteria and imaging techniques, the role of antimicrobial therapy and duration of treatment, and the role of adjunct therapy, including decongestants, glucocorticosteroids and nasal irrigation.


Improved accuracy of clinical diagnosis, better utilization of imaging techniques and rational use of antimicrobial therapy.


A MEDLINE search for relevant articles published from 1980 to 1996 using the MeSH terms "sinusitis," "acute sinusitis," "respiratory infections," "upper respiratory infections," "sinusitis" and "diagnosis," "sinusitis" and "therapy," "sinusitis" and "etiology," and "antimicrobial resistance" and search for additional articles from the reference lists of retrieved articles. Papers referring to chronic sinusitis, sinusitis in compromised patients and documented nonbacterial sinusitis were excluded. The evidence was evaluated by participants at the Canadian Sinusitis Symposium, field in Toronto on April 26-27, 1996.


A hierarchical evaluation of the strength of evidence modified from the methods of the Canadian Task Force on the Periodic Health Examination was used. Strategies were identified to deal with problems for which no adequate clinical data were available. Recommendations arrived at by consensus of the symposium participants were included.


Increased awareness of acute sinusitis, accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment should reduce costs related to unnecessary investigations, time lost from work and complications due to inappropriate treatment. As well, physicians will be better able to decide which patients will not require antimicrobial therapy, thus saving the patient the cost and potential side effects of treatment.


Clinical diagnosis can usually be made from the patient's history and findings on physical examination only. Five clinical findings comprising 3 symptoms (maxillary toothache, poor response to decongestants and a history of coloured nasal discharge) and 2 signs (purulent nasal secretion and abnormal transillumination result) are the best predictors of acute bacterial sinusitis (level I evidence). Transillumination is a useful technique in the hands of experienced personnel, but only negative findings are useful (level III evidence). Radiography is not warranted when the likelihood of acute sinusitis is high or low but is useful when the diagnosis is in doubt (level III evidence). First-line therapy should be a 10-day course of amoxicillin (trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole should be given to patients allergic to penicillin) (level I evidence) and a decongestant (level III evidence). Patients allergic to amoxicillin and those not responding to first-line therapy should be switched to a second-line agent. As well, patients with recurrent episodes of acute sinusitis who have been assessed and found not to have anatomic anomalies may also benefit from second-line therapy (level III evidence).


The recommendations are based on consensus of Canadian and American experts in infectious diseases, microbiology, otolaryngology and family medicine. The guidelines were reviewed independently for the advisory committee by 2 external experts. Previous guidelines did not exist in Canada.

Publication Types:

  • Consensus Development Conference
  • Review

PMID: 9347786 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

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