Home / Uncategorized / Respiratory Infections, Sinusitis, and Sore Throats: Can Antibiotics Cause More Harm Than Good?

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If you’ve ever been to the doctor, you know all about antibiotics.  Chances are that you’re given these pills just about any time you come in with a cough or a runny nose.  You might even know which antibiotics seem to work best for you and which ones you could do without.

For many health care providers, prescribing antibiotics has become a knee-jerk reaction, and as a patient, you expect this.  What would you do if the next time you went to the doctor with a run-of-the-mill cold, the physician sent you home empty-handed?  Some patients would probably refuse to leave without being prescribed a quick fix, miracle pill.  Others would go on to see further physicians until receiving the answers they wanted to hear.

What if we told you that, sometimes, antibiotics can do more harm than good?

Did you know that viruses cause 85-95% of cases of pharyngitis (sore throat)?  Viruses also cause the majority of cases of sinusitis, and even the ones that are caused by bacteria will get better without treatment about 75% of the time.

We get it; when feeling under the weather, your goal is to feel better as fast as possible.  In reality, the goal should be to feel better as best as possible.  There is a healthy way and a wrong way to go about getting over your sickness.  The problem is that we as humans are often too impatient and short-sighted to see that.

To help protect yourself and your family, here are some quick facts about antibiotic use:

  • Antibiotics can help cure bacterial infections, but they won’t work on viral infections.

What’s the difference?  Conditions like strep throat, bacterial sinus infections, and some pneumonia are caused by bacteria.  On the other hand, the common cold, the flu, and many coughs are caused by viruses.  For viral infections such as these, antibiotics will not make you feel better, cure the infection at hand, or prevent you from being contagious to others.

  • Using antibiotics too often or at the wrong time can cause bacteria to become resistant to these medications.

Antibiotic resistance is used to describe this condition.  The goal of antibiotics is to kill the harmful bacteria making you sick, or otherwise prevent them from growing.  However, these bacteria can sometimes become resistant to certain antibiotics, making them ineffective at treating your illness when you really need them.

  • Antibiotic use can cause a secondary infection of the colon, called C. diff.

Antibiotic use can cause Clostridium difficile colitis (C. diff), even if they are given for a good reason.  This causes diarrhea that can be severe and require hospitalization.   The more often you’re exposed to antibiotics, the greater your risk can be.

  • Here are the best guidelines for using antibiotics:

o   Don’t attempt to take antibiotics for treatment of viral infections.

o   Don’t use antibiotics too often, but rather only when truly needed.  Sometimes, things just have to run their course.

o   Use your antibiotics in the correct manner, as they have been prescribed to you by a physician.  Always take the full course of antibiotics; don’t simply discontinue use when you start to feel better.

If you’re sick and unsure as to whether or not antibiotics are the answer, be sure to schedule an appointment with a trusted physician.