Vitality

Preventing Antibiotic Resistance: When You Should And Shouldn't Take Antibiotics

The rise of bacterial superbugs resistant to our most effective treatments can be tied to more than one factor. Suspected causes range from farmers dumping low-doses of antibiotics into their livestock to traces of antimicrobials in our indoor dust left behind from our cleaning products. Chief among them, however, is the overuse of antibiotics for many of our ills and pains.

In light of that, here are some situations when you should and shouldn’t reach for the penicillin.

Pills Medical Daily looks at when you should and shouldn't use antibiotics. Pixabay, Public Domain

Sinus Infections

One of the most common types of infection around, they can cause a variety of symptoms, ranging from headaches and facial pain to a sore throat and stuffy nose.

Annoying as they are, though, antibiotics are often a poor choice for treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s not only because most sinus infections are sparked by viruses, which antibiotics can do absolutely nothing against, but because they usually fade away on their own in a week’s time.

In other words, trying to stamp out a sinus infection with antibiotics is pretty much like dumping a swimming pool onto a stove fire: just a tad bit excessive.

The Common Cold And Flu

Unlike sinus infections, there's no reason to use antibiotics with these diseases. Influenza and the some-200 different germs that cause the common cold are all viruses, making them impervious to antibiotics.

While these drugs probably won’t make an individual much worse off for taking them (though they all have common side-effects), their repeated misuse fuels bacterial antibiotic resistance on a global scale. While a 2016 study found that 30 percent of all oral antibiotics prescribed annually were unneeded. that figure jumped to 50 percent for acute respiratory infections like the cold and flu. And as with sinus infections, most acute respiratory infections go away on their own, regardless of what caused them. For those wondering, the same goes for ear infections too. 

When You Should Turn To Antibiotics

Unfortunately, there’s no hard-and-fast way to quickly tell when antibiotics are a perfect treatment. The one exception, if there is any, is with urinary tract infections since they are often caused by bacteria,

If doctors suspect a bacterial respiratory infection such as strep throat, they’ll rely on tests that can quickly culture the germs found around your swollen throat or look for tell-tale white spots on your tonsils. Sometimes, doctors look at the color and consistency of your snot to make an educated guess, with green and yellow phelgm being more likely (but not always!) a sign of bacterial infection. Either way, it can take days or even weeks for lab tests to confirm what exactly is making you sick, by which time the infection may have already come and gone.

Ultimately, it’s best to err on the side of caution. When doctors are asked why they often prescribe antibiotics for a case of the sniffles or an ear infection, many report feeling pressured by their patients to offer some sort of solution. Rather than haggle your doctor for a cure-all treatment then, you would probably be better off asking for ways to deal with the symptoms, such as pain relievers and nasal decongestants.

And if and when you are given antibiotics, you should make sure to use them as instructed, even if you think you don't need them anymore. Antibiotic resistance not only happens when we use antibiotics too much, but also when we don't use enough. Bacteria that would have died off with a full course of antibiotics can survive and become resistant, making for a double whammy — not only can they make us sick again, but the same medication won't work as well against them the second time around.  

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