Drug-resistant bacteria are on the rise, largely due to inappropriate or unnecessary use of antibiotics for respiratory infections. To combat the spread of antibiotic resistant infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Physicians have issued new guidelines regarding antibiotics.
The CDC estimates that 50 percent of the 41 million prescriptions written for respiratory infections during adult outpatient visits may be unnecessary or inappropriate. Not only can the overuse of antibiotics lead to drug-resistant bugs — like the recent Zika virus — that have experts concerned, but antibiotics have also been implicated in one out of every five emergency room visits involving drug reactions.
When to take an antibiotic
Save yourself a trip to the doctor’s office by knowing which common illness can be treated by antibiotics and which cannot.
Common cold and flu. Antibiotics are not necessary in cases of the common cold or flu, both of which are viruses and cannot be treated with antibiotics, which only kill bacteria. Symptoms of a common cold normally resolve on their own within two weeks. If symptoms persist or worsen, see your doctor. The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated every year. If you do come down with the flu, ask your doctor about an antiviral drug to speed your recovery.
Strep throat. Strep throat is a bacterial infection requiring antibiotics. However, not all sore throats are strep throat. A strep test is required to confirm a strep diagnosis.
Pneumonia. Bacteria, viruses and fungi can all cause pneumonia. Antibiotics will only work if your physician has identified the specific type of bacteria causing your infection. Antiviral medications may be used to treat viral pneumonia.
Sinus infection. Doctors should prescribe antibiotics if symptoms of a sinus infection persist more than 10 days; if symptoms are severe; or if there is a fever higher than 102.2 F with nasal discharge or facial pain lasting at least three consecutive days. If you begin to feel better and symptoms return, or if the infection lasts more than a week, antibiotics may also be necessary.
Bronchitis. An estimated two-thirds of patients diagnosed with bronchitis are prescribed antibiotics, even though the majority of bronchitis cases are caused by viruses, which don’t respond to antibiotics. Antibiotics should only be used to treat bronchitis if pneumonia is suspected or if the patient has complicating factors, such as emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which make them more susceptible to developing a secondary bacterial infection.
Ear infections. Like pneumonia, ear infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria. The only way to determine the cause of the ear infection is by puncturing the eardrum in order to culture the fluid. While some doctors recommend waiting to see if the infection clears up on its own, most doctors will treat the ear infection with an antibiotic without obtaining a culture.
Never take leftover or old medication for a new infection or share antibiotics. If you aren’t feeling well, consult with your primary care provider. If you need help finding an Goshen Health Primary Care provider for you and your family, call Nurse On Call at 574.364.2600 or 877.846.4447.