‘Tis the season for cough, congestion and runny noses. Many people will develop symptoms of an upper respiratory infection (URI) this fall or winter, especially around the holidays.
Of course, no one wants to be sick, so they will request antibiotics from their physician thinking they will get better quicker. But, will the antibiotics really help and is it always a good idea to take them?
Medical research shows that, in most instances, antibiotics are not indicated for acute URIs. Most URIs including sinusitis and bronchitis, are caused by viruses, which do not respond to antibiotics at all. These infections tend to run their course in about a week, so generally patients should treat their symptoms with cough suppressants, decongestants, and expectorants and wait to see if their symptoms are resolved. Even the presence of yellow or green nasal discharge does not always mean there is a bacterial infection, which is a common misconception.
Circumstances that usually warrant antibiotic use include:
*Sinusitis symptoms that have persisted for at least 10 days.
*Tonsillitis that is either clinically consistent with strep throat or has a positive rapid strep test.
*Symptomatic acute otitis media (middle ear infection).
*Bronchitis, only if the suspected cause is pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough.
*Influenza infection, which usually causes acute onset of fever and muscle aches, should be treated with antiviral medication if initiated within 48 hours of symptom onset.
Antibiotics are not indicated for cases of the common cold or laryngitis.
Any time someone takes antibiotics, the bacteria causing the illness are killed, but so are the good bacteria that are needed to keep us healthy.
This is a common cause of vaginal yeast infection in women, but can cause much more serious infections as well.
Allergic reactions to antibiotics are common and can be as serious as anaphylaxis (an acute allergic reaction to an antigen, like a bee sting), and in general, overuse of antibiotics leads to resistance. If your doctor does decide that you would benefit from a course of antibiotics, make sure you follow the directions closely and take the entire course of medication.
So, the next time you get the sniffles, cough or congestion, resist the urge to request an antibiotic right away.
Your doctor can make suggestions on how to feel better with a variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications and you can avoid taking another unnecessary antibiotic.