Antibiotics: When are they necessary?
Antibiotics can be life-saving drugs when prescribed appropriately for true bacterial infections. However, using antibiotics when they are not truly needed can contribute to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance occurs when an antibiotic has lost its ability to kill bacteria effectively. Bacteria that are antibiotic resistant will continue to multiply, even when an antibiotic is being used.
According to the CDC, between one-third and one-half of antibiotic use in humans is either unnecessary or inappropriate. That means nearly 47 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are being written all over the United States each year in our emergency rooms and doctor’s offices. These numbers are sobering and are an indicator that we could be making the improvement of antibiotic use a priority.
When Do You Need an Antibiotic?
Contrary to what many people believe, antibiotics do not fight infections that are caused by viruses. That means that many illnesses, like the common cold, the flu, sinusitis and even sore throats, are unable to be cured by antibiotics. For these illnesses, getting lots of rest, using over the counter medications to control symptoms and getting plenty of fluids may be the best treatment options. Saline sprays, lozenges, and cool-mist vaporizers may help alleviate any discomfort you may be feeling.
Antibiotics are only effective when they are used to treat a bacterial infection, like a urinary tract infection, strep throat or bacterial pneumonia. Your healthcare provider will be able to differentiate between a bacterial infection and viral infection and will prescribe an antibiotic accordingly.
Do's and Don'ts
It is important to understand that taking an unneeded antibiotic is not without risk and may lead to a future infection that is antibiotic resistant. Many commonly prescribed antibiotics can cause severe complications. They can cause disruption of normal healthy bacteria in the colon and potentially contribute to clostridium difficile colitis. This can cause severe damage to the colon needing surgery, or even be fatal in some cases. Some antibiotics can even cause complications of organs like heart, muscles and tendons
Remember, even if your healthcare provider doesn’t prescribe an antibiotic for you, that doesn’t mean you aren’t sick. Have a candid conversation with your clinician to understand what steps you can take to begin feeling better fast.
If your healthcare provider decides that your illness warrants an antibiotic, be sure to take all doses for the prescribed length of time to avoid a relapse. Also, it is important to remember that patients should never save their antibiotics or give them to someone else who is sick. Your antibiotic may be the wrong type and dose for someone else and may cause their condition to worsen.
Your healthcare provider is your partner when it comes to your health and wellness. Ask questions during your visit to gain a better understanding about your illness and what medication you will need to get better.