Since their discovery in the 1920s, antibiotics have transformed our ability to treat infections. Antibiotic resistance, however, is a growing problem, both in the United States and across the world.
The main driving factors behind antibiotic resistance are the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. As antibiotic resistance increases, these lifesaving drugs do not work as well as they once did, and successfully treating common infections becomes more difficult.
Are you aware that colds, flu, most sore throats, bronchitis and many sinus and ear infections are caused by viruses? Did you know that antibiotics do not help fight viruses? It’s true. For the overwhelming majority of common respiratory infections, antibiotics are not helpful.
Antibiotics cure bacterial infections, not viral infections such as colds or flu, most coughs and bronchitis, most sore throats and runny noses.
Taking antibiotics for viral infections will not cure the infection, keep other individuals from catching the illness or help you feel better.
Taking antibiotics when you have a virus might do more harm than good because they increase your risk of getting an antibiotic-resistant infection later and kill the healthy bacteria in the gut, allowing more harmful bacteria, such as C. difficile, to grow in its place. Although this infection is more commonly found in hospitals, it also occurs in clinics outside of the hospital.
Antibiotics cause one out of five emergency department visits for adverse drug events, and they are the most common cause of emergency department visits for adverse drug events in children under 18 years of age.
It’s important to take antibiotics only for bacterial infections since they can put you or your child at risk for harmful side effects and antibiotic-resistant infections.
When you use antibiotics appropriately, you do the best for your health, your family’s health and the health of those around you. Here are tips for how to use antibiotics wisely.
What to do
■ Ask your health care professionals about what you can do stop or slow antibiotic resistance. Let them know you are concerned about this issue.
■ Ask your health care professional if there are steps you can take to feel better and get relief from your symptoms without using antibiotics. Sometimes the best treatment for your illness might be relieving your symptoms, not an antibiotic.
■ Take the prescribed antibiotic exactly as your health care professional tells you. If taken improperly, antibiotics are more likely to cause harm.
■ Safely discard any leftover medication. The Food and Drug Administration provides helpful tips on how to safely dispose of unused medications at www.fda.gov.
■ Ask your health care professional about vaccines recommended for you and your family. Vaccines are an effective way to prevent infections that might require an antibiotic. Vaccines are also an important way to keep diseases from spreading.
What not to do
■ Never take an antibiotic for a viral infection such as a cold or the flu. Antibiotics do not cure viral infections such as colds, flu, most sore throats, most coughs and bronchitis (“chest colds”), many sinus infections and many ear infections.
■ Never pressure your health care professional to prescribe an antibiotic.
■ Never skip doses or stop taking an antibiotic early, even if you no longer feel sick, unless your health care professional tells you to do so.
■ Never save antibiotics for the next time you become sick and do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. Taking the wrong medicine might delay correct treatment, allow bacteria to multiply and cause unwanted and potentially severe side effects. Discard any leftover medication.
Content source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To Your Health is provided by the staff of Boulder City Hospital. For more information, call 702-293-4111, ext. 576, or visit bouldercityhospital.org.