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Antibiotics and Antibiotic Resistance - What to Know

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The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has recently placed an increased emphasis on antibiotic awareness. Dr. Angela Olerich of McFarland Clinic Webster City Family Medicine says it is important to recognize the threat of antibiotic resistance and the importance of appropriate prescribing and use of antibiotics.

Why should you not overuse antibiotics?

Side Effects

Using antibiotics when they are not needed is not only unhelpful but can be harmful. One in five medication-related emergency room visits are due to antibiotic side effects. Common side effects of antibiotics include rash, dizziness, nausea, yeast infections, and diarrhea. Antibiotics kill off all kinds of bacteria, even the good, healthy kind we like to keep around, like in our gut. The absence of those bacteria can lead to diarrhea and even C. Diff, which requires additional treatment. Antibiotics can also interact with multiple prescription medications.

Ineffective Against Viral Infection

The majority of upper respiratory infections are viral. Antibiotics often will not help if the illness is viral. Often we hear people say they got better toward the end of their cold while on antibiotics, but this generally coincides with the time it would take your body to fight off a viral infection anyway.

Antibiotic Resistance

The third and biggest reason to care about the overuse of antibiotics is antibiotic resistance, which is when the bacteria no longer respond to the drugs designed to kill them. This resistance can happen if the bacteria have survived multiple rounds of antibiotics and have mutated along the way. Resistance is becoming a global threat, and the CDC has a large task force invested in this. There are more than two million antibiotic-resistant infections each year in the United States, and more than 23,000 people die each year from these infections. Minimizing exposure to antibiotics during your life means that when you do need them, they are more likely to actually work.

When do you need antibiotics?

Antibiotics have been one of medicine’s huge advances and are very helpful when needed, but they should generally only be used when the infection is bacterial and not viral. After any viral illness, a cough, called a post-infectious cough can typically last up to one month. You can absolutely talk with your doctor about other safe ways to manage symptoms like cough so that you can get some rest. Here are some Upper Respiratory Infections that may or may not need to be treated with antibiotics:

Sinus Infection

More than 90 percent of sinus pain is viral and often does not require antibiotics, even if your snot is yellow or green. If, however, you have fevers of more than 100.4 degrees for more than a couple days or if the pain has been there for more than two weeks, you may need antibiotics and should see your doctor.

Sore Throat

If you test positive for strep, you should be treated with antibiotics because it is a bacteria that can have secondary complications. Be sure to finish all antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor.


Most of bronchitis is viral and often does not require antibiotics. It is not the same as pneumonia and is basically inflammation of the upper airways causing a really nasty cough. If you are having fevers for more than a few days or are short of breath, it is probably time to visit with your doctor for an examination.

Common Cold

That cough, runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing never requires antibiotics.

How can you limit antibiotic use?

Prevent Illness

One of the best ways to limit use of antibiotics to is prevent viral illnesses that might require them. Wash your hands, cover your cough, get recommended vaccines, maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, and stay home when you are sick. When you are ill, stay well hydrated.

Follow Doctor's Instructions

If you do have a bacterial infection and are prescribed antibiotics by your doctor, make sure you take them according to their directions and finish all of them in order to prevent resistance in the future.

Your doctors want to help you feel better, and sometimes that means not prescribing antibiotics, as they may do more harm than good if you have a viral illness. When you do need antibiotics, they will work and may continue to work in the future.

More Information About Antibiotics

For further information check out the CDC’s Be Antibiotics Aware campaign. If you ever have any questions on whether your illness needs specific treatment or not, it is best to visit with your primary care physician.

Tagged As: Prevention and Wellness

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