So you’re feeling sick—you go to see the doctor, and they give you your diagnosis. But they don’t give you antibiotics… why? Haven’t people told us that antibiotics help us feel better when we’re sick?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 30% of antibiotics are unnecessarily prescribed by doctors and emergency departments in the United States. This comes from both physician misperceptions as well as pressure from patients.
By definition, antibiotics function as the treatment for infections caused by bacteria, like strep throat, whooping cough or a urinary tract infection. There are some exceptions to this rule, which includes most cases of bronchitis, some forms of sinus and ear infections. But given their nature to combat bacteria, antibiotics should not be given for viral infections, which includes colds, the flu and runny noses.
If antibiotics are needed and are prescribed to you, be sure to take them exactly as prescribed; however, if antibiotics are not needed, then they can actually do more harm than good. Contrary to popular belief, antibiotics will not cure a viral infection, will not protect others from getting sick and will not make the patient feel better in the long run. If someone takes antibiotics unnecessarily, he or she can develop minor to serious side effects. Typically, people forget about these side effects because when antibiotics are needed, the beneficial effects of the drug outweigh the negative effects.
Also, taking an antibiotic when you shouldn’t kills good bacteria and can cause your body to become resistant to antibiotics.
There are other ways to treat symptoms if you are not prescribed antibiotics. Generally, providers advise that you:
- Get plenty of rest
- Drink a lot of fluids,
- Use a clean humidifier
- Use a cool mist vaporizer
- Avoid smoking, including secondhand smoke, and other airborne pollutants
- Take over-the-counter medications if desired, including acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen to relieve pain or fever
- Use saline nasal spray or drops
If you have any questions regarding antibiotic use, visit the CDC’s website: cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/community/about/can-do.html