When you’re sick, you want to conquer an illness as soon as possible. Many people believe that antibiotics will help. But, oftentimes, skipping the Rx is best for your health and the health of your community.
The overuse of antibiotics is one of the top concerns of the Centers for Disease Control, because it can lead to “antibiotic resistance.” This means that germs that were once easily treatable with antibiotics begin to resist the effects of the drugs and become dangerous infections that are more difficult to treat.
To understand when an illness merits antibiotic use, it’s helpful to understand the different types of germs. When you’re sick, you are likely fighting either A) bacteria or B) a virus.
Bacteria are living organisms, many of which don’t cause harm. Live bacteria are found in yogurt, for example, and can be beneficial. Some bacteria are harmful, however, and antibiotics can be effective by killing the organisms and stopping their growth.
Viruses are not alive. They grow and reproduce after invading other living cells, and antibiotics are not effective against them. The virus simply has to run its course. Some examples of viruses include:
- Most sore throats
- Most coughs and bronchitis
- Some sinus infections
- Some ear infections
The Harm in Antibiotic Use
Taking antibiotics for colds, flu, sore throats and other viral illnesses not only won’t work, but it can also have unpleasant side effects such as diarrhea and stomach upset. And over time, antibiotic use helps create bacteria that are harder to kill.
The CDC estimates at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths each year in the U.S. are caused by antibiotic resistance.
Taking Antibiotics Safely
The best way to slow the spread of antibiotic resistant infections is to follow some basic guidelines. For instance:
- Take antibiotics only when your doctor deems it absolutely necessary to clear an infection, and let your body fight off milder illnesses on its own.
- Don’t pressure your doctor to prescribe an antibiotic. Ask him or her about over-the-counter treatments that can make your symptoms more tolerable.
- If you are prescribed antibiotics, make sure to take the entire course as prescribed. Stopping before the full course is taken could require an additional prescription. Also, discard any leftover medication.
- Never use antibiotics that were prescribed for someone else.
Looking for health care advice to deal with an illness? Visit www.osfoncall.org.
For more information about antibiotic resistance, visit cdc.gov/drugresistance.
Last Updated: December 21, 2021