Expatriates suffering from sinus infections are unlikely to benefit from antibiotics bought through an international health insurance policy, as guidelines released by the Infectious Diseases Society of America state the vast majority of these conditions are due to viruses.
The ailment – also called acute rhinosinusitis – involves an inflammation of the sinus and nasal passages, which can create uncomfortable pressure in the face and is known to last for weeks.
It generally occurs following upper respiratory diseases or colds, although environmental irritants and allergens could be responsible for some cases.
Other factors linked to the ailment include changes in altitude – such as through air travel or scuba diving – as well as tobacco consumption, diseases impacting the function of cilia in the sinuses and weakened immune systems.
These infections are the fifth-leading reason people are prescribed antibiotics, although between 90 and 98 per cent of all cases are due to viruses, which are unaffected by this treatment method.
Furthermore, overuse of these drugs can encourage medicine-resistant superbugs to evolve.
Anthony Chow, professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the University of British Columbia and chair of the guidelines panel, said: "Many physicians prescribe antibiotics 'just in case'."
This is because there is no easy way to determine whether a sinus infection is caused by bacteria or viruses, he pointed out.
However, as most cases are viral, antibiotics can actually be harmful by exposing people to their side effects, encouraging bacteria to become immune to medication and adding to healthcare costs, the specialist remarked.
Thomas File, co-author of the guidelines and Northeast Ohio Medical University's Infectious Disease Section chair, advises people with sinus infections to use saline irrigation, take painkillers and drink plenty of water.
The Infectious Diseases Society of America recommendations state that acute rhinosinusitis is likely to be caused by bacteria if symptoms are severe, long-lasting or get worse.
Regardless of the source of the disease, antihistamines and decongestants can make the condition worse and should be avoided, they note.