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4 Things to Know About Antibiotics You're Taking

August 22, 2018

Chances are, you’ve probably taken an antibiotic for an illness. The next time your doctor prescribes one, however, you'll want to ensure it’s necessary. Turns out, one-in-three antibiotic prescriptions is unnecessary, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That means each year in the United States, 47 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are written in doctor's offices, emergency rooms and hospital-based clinics.

Most of these unnecessary antibiotics are prescribed for respiratory conditions caused by viruses, including common colds, viral sore throats, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections — all of which do not respond to antibiotics, according to CDC researchers.

You Can Build Up a Resistance to Antibiotics

A big risk of antibiotic overprescribing is antibiotic resistance. Which means the antibiotic – the most powerful tool we have to fight life-threatening infections – does not work for the person taking it. This happens when bacteria develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them, according to the CDC.

According to the CDC, antibiotic resistance is a major health concern because the “antibiotic-resistant bacteria can cause illnesses that were once easily treatable with antibiotics to become untreatable, leading to dangerous infections.”

To combat antibiotic resistance and avoid adverse drug reactions, it’s important for patients to take antibiotics appropriately, according to the CDC.

Antibiotics Are Not for Viral Infections

Despite what many think, antibiotics are not effective against viral infections. These include the common cold, the flu, most sore throats, bronchitis, and many sinus and ear infections. Widespread use of antibiotics for these illnesses is an example of how overuse of antibiotics can promote the spread of antibiotic resistance.

Smart use of antibiotics is key to controlling the spread of resistance, according to the CDC. This includes:

  • Never taking an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or the flu.
  • Never pressuring your healthcare professional to prescribe an antibiotic.
  • Never save antibiotics for the next time you get sick.
  • Never take antibiotics prescribed for someone else.
Antibiotic Alternatives

Viruses, like colds, flu and most sore throats, and even ear infections can typically get better without antibiotics. If you do end up taking antibiotics, they may not help you, and they can contribute to antibiotic resistance.

Instead, when it comes to viral infections, plenty of fluids, rest and over-the-counter products may be your best treatment options, according to the CDC.

What You Can Do

Work with your healthcare provider to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance. Ask your doctor if there are steps you can take to feel better and get symptomatic relief without using antibiotics. And if you are prescribed an antibiotic, take it exactly as your healthcare professional tells you.

Looking to the future, we may be able to reduce the use of antibiotics by relying more on alternative products, including vaccines, the use of probiotics and immunotherapeutic (the treatment of disease by inducing, enhancing, or suppressing an immune response), according to the National Academy of Sciences.