Antibiotics: Think Twice, Seek Advice
Once again it is the season of runny noses, sore throats, head congestion, and coughs.
By Tanya Munger, DNP, FNP-BC
Runny noses, sore throats, head congestion, and coughs. are common symptoms that cause people to seek care in clinics with hopes of receiving a prescription for antibiotics. However, antibiotics are not always the best treatment, and if not used appropriately, can cause additional health problems. Antibiotics are medications prescribed to treat infections caused by bacteria.
They are not effective against viruses or colds and therefore should not be used in these instances. Viruses and bacteria are tricky. Not only can they cause similar symptoms, but many illnesses like pneumonia, meningitis, and diarrhea can be caused by either a virus or bacteria. Each year, about 30 percent of antibiotics, or 47 million prescriptions, are prescribed unnecessarily in clinics and emergency departments in the United States. Antibiotics save lives, but any time antibiotics are used, they can cause side effects and lead to antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance is a leading public and global health threat. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. The bacteria change in a way that reduces or stops the effectiveness of antibiotics. When this occurs, the bacteria can survive and continue to grow and strengthen. The antibiotics lose their strength and ability to effectively treat the bacteria. Each year in the U.S., at least 2 million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 people die as a result. The most important way to reduce or prevent antibiotic resistance is by educating yourself about the proper use of antibiotics.
PROPER USE OF ANTIBIOTICS
Antibiotics can be lifesaving and are used to treat bacterial infections such as pneumonia, urinary tract/ bladder infections, some wound infections, and sepsis (the body’s extreme response to infection). Effective antibiotics are also needed for people who are at high risk for developing infections. Some of those at high risk for infections include patients undergoing surgery or those receiving chemotherapy.
IMPROPER USE OF ANTIBIOTICS
Antibiotics do not work on viruses, such as those that cause colds, flu, bronchitis, or runny noses — even if the mucus is thick, yellow, or green. Most sinus infections and some cases of middle ear infections are caused by viruses and do not require antibiotics. Most respiratory illnesses resolve in one to two weeks with no treatment at all. When antibiotics aren’t needed, they won’t help you, and the side effects of use could cause harm. Common side effects of antibiotics can include rash, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, and yeast infections. More serious side effects include Clostridioides difficile infection (also called C. difficile or C. diff), which causes severe diarrhea that can lead to major colon damage and death. People can also have extreme and life-threatening allergic reactions.
REMEMBER THESE BASICS
Talk with your healthcare professional about the best treatment for you or your loved one’s illness. If you need antibiotics, take them exactly as prescribed. Talk with your healthcare professional if you have any questions about your antibiotics, or if you develop any side effects — especially severe diarrhea — since that could be a C. difficile infection, which needs to be treated immediately.
To stay healthy and keep others healthy:
+ Clean your hands.
+ Cover coughs.
+ Stay home when you’re sick.
+ Remember to get recommended vaccines, such as the influenza vaccine. •