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Patriot Life - Don't Reach for That Antibiotic Just Yet

Winter 2016
Issue No. 6

Don't Reach for That Antibiotic Just Yet

Date: January 1, 2016

pills spilled out on the counter

Your nose is stuffed up and you are miserable. You need an antibiotic to make it better, right? Probably not, says Wendy Bennett, M.D., M.P.H., an internist at Johns Hopkins.

Many upper-respiratory infections are caused by viruses, which don’t respond to antibiotics. Yet these medications are frequently prescribed, even though they won’t help.

“Most of the time for colds, even for bronchitis or sinusitis, we don’t use antibiotics,” Bennett says. “We used to give antibiotics more often for sinusitis, but now we’re realizing it’s usually caused by a virus.”

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether an illness is bacterial and calls for antibiotics. Although coughs and runny noses are viral, strep throat and pneumonia are usually bacterial. Infections like pinkeye and eczema are typically viral, but if they don’t improve in 10 days, antibiotics may be warranted to treat secondary infections that have taken hold.

Another reason to use discretion with antibiotics: Side effects can include nausea and diarrhea. Plus, medication overuse makes it more likely that a future infection will resist antibiotic treatment.

If you have questions about whether or not an antibiotic should be prescribed, be sure to talk with your primary care physician.