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Use of nasopharyngeal culture to determine appropriateness of antibiotic therapy in acute bacterial rhinosinusitis


  • Potential conflict of interest: None provided.

Correspondence to: Stella Lee, MD, Division of Sinonasal Disorders and Allergy, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Mercy Building D, Suite 2100, 1400 Locust Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15219; e-mail:



Rhinosinusitis is one of the top 5 diagnoses for which an antibiotic is prescribed, often without a clear bacterial etiology. This study evaluated whether nasopharyngeal culture and gram stain could serve as a surrogate for endoscopically obtained middle meatal cultures in directing appropriate therapy for acute bacterial rhinosinusitis (ABRS). This study also investigated the utility of a rapid sinus test screen in differentiating bacterial from nonbacterial rhinosinusitis.


Thirty-one adult patients met inclusion criteria for ABRS. Samples were obtained from both the middle meatus and nasopharynx for Gram stain and culture. Nasal mucous samples were tested with a rapid sinus test strip measuring pH, levels of protein, nitrites, and leukocyte esterase.


Sixty-one percent (61%) of nasopharyngeal and 48% of middle meatal samples grew pathogenic bacteria. The concordance rate was 84% between the 2 sites (p = 0.0006). The following pathogenic organisms were detected: Moraxella catarrhalis, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Staphylococcus aureus. For nasopharyngeal samples, reliance on Gram stain alone exhibited a sensitivity of 31% and specificity of 100% and, similarly, for middle meatus samples, 47% and 93%, respectively. The rapid sinus test revealed a sensitivity of 83% and specificity of 7%.


Nasopharyngeal and middle meatal cultures exhibited high concordance for pathogenic bacteria. Gram stain exhibited moderate sensitivity and excellent specificity. Nasopharyngeal cultures could provide a viable method, especially in a primary care setting, for determining the appropriateness of antibiotic therapy. The rapid sinus test's lack of specificity precluded its utility in the differentiation between bacterial and nonbacterial rhinosinusitis.