Antibiotics are medications created almost 100 years ago to fight bacterial infections. They have transformed health care and the treatment of medical conditions. Infectious diseases, such as pneumonia, used to be listed as the most common cause of death in the United States; whereas today, it is ranked number eight. Unfortunately, as antibiotic usage has surged in recent years, many bacteria now have developed “antibiotic resistance” so that antibiotics are no longer effective. Just as Superman is resistant to bullets and other weapons, except for Kryptonite, we have now created “Superbugs” that are resistant to all known antibiotics. Over 35,000 Americans die each year from these super-infections.
When Are Antibiotics Beneficial?
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections such as pneumonia, Lyme disease, urinary tract infections, skin infections, strep throat, and sepsis. You should only take an antibiotic if your medical condition will not improve or if you will develop complications without treatment, or if you are at risk of infecting others without treatment.
When Should You Avoid Antibiotics?
Antibiotics are not useful for viral infections, including head colds (rhinosinusitis) and chest colds (bronchitis). While basic treatment such as steam, honey, and hot liquids can offer relief, no medicines, including antibiotics, can prevent the natural course of a cold virus infection or cure a viral infection faster than your own body’s natural healing. Antibiotics used in these circumstances are the most common cause of unnecessary antibiotic prescribing, which can lead to negative side effects and harm.
Some bacterial infections, such as ear infections, are often successfully cured by your body’s own immune system. The delay of antibiotic use for two or three days is often advisable in these situations. The majority of sinus infections are caused by cold viruses. The prescribing of an antibiotic is always delayed except for very unusual circumstances. Some viral infections, such as influenza and cold sores (herpes virus), can be successfully treated by antiviral medications, which are different from antibiotics.
Common Side Effects of Antibiotics
Antibiotics can cause several side effects including rash, nausea, diarrhea, vaginal yeast infections, and dizziness. Sometimes they can cause severe allergic reactions. Since antibiotics are frequently prescribed, they are the most common cause of adverse reactions to medications. Antibiotics can harm the natural bacterial community that resides in your nose and mouth, on your skin, in your intestines, and vagina. When this happens, you can develop much more serious infections such as C. diff, a diarrheal disease that is very uncomfortable and even potentially fatal.
Action Steps to Stay Healthy
- When your prescriber recommends an antibiotic, always ask, “Do I really need this?” If you do take an antibiotic, take it as prescribed and do not save antibiotics for future use.
- Practice “safe touch” all the time. Before you touch common spaces such as door knobs, shopping carts or soap/towel dispensers, try to use alcohol wipes. If that is not possible, touch the surface with disposable gloves. If you use your hands, wipe them promptly with alcohol cleaner.
- Before and after touching common spaces, wash your hands with alcohol cleaner or wash them with soap and water for 20 seconds or three rounds of “Happy Birthday.” Scrub the top, bottom, and sides of your hands, and between your fingers and under your nails. Be especially careful to wash your hands after using the bathroom, before preparing food, or touching adults or children.
- Cough into the crook of your elbow to avoid getting viruses on your hands.
- Stay home when sick, whenever possible.
- Get recommended vaccines, such as the flu vaccine. Vaccines significantly reduce your chances of getting the flu and help protect your family and others from getting the flu.