Avoid Overusing Antibiotics
November 17, 2020
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three antibiotic prescriptions in the U.S. is unnecessary. In addition, each year in the U.S., more than 2.8 million infections occur from antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and more than 35,000 people die as a result.
Because we need antibiotics to continue to be available to us as treatment for life-threatening illnesses, it’s important to understand when antibiotics are effective—and when they are not—and why it’s harmful to overuse them.
Antibiotics don’t work on viral infections
“Antibiotics target bacteria; therefore, they treat bacterial infections, such as strep, urinary tract infections or more serious infections, like sepsis or pneumonia. They do not treat viral infections, including COVID-19, the flu or a cold,” explains family physician, Olabode Akinsanya, MD, with Overlake Primary Care – Issaquah.
And, antibiotics won’t help you feel better or shorten an illness if you take them when you have a virus. Most colds and flu—and even most sinus and ear infections—run their course in a week or two without treatment.
Thick, discolored mucus does not mean you need antibiotics
An old wives’ tale that you need antibiotics if your mucus is thick, yellow or green has long since been debunked.
The function of mucus is to flush out viruses, allergens or bacteria from your nose and sinuses. It’s typically clear at the start of an illness. Then, after a few days, it’s normal for the color to change from clear to white, yellow or green. But this can happen with colds, allergies or infections; it doesn’t mean you need antibiotics.
What is antibiotic resistant bacteria?
So, what is the harm in overusing antibiotics? Over time, overusing antibiotics can cause the bacteria to develop mechanisms to withstand the antibiotic. The bacteria then becomes resistant to the antibiotic, meaning the antibiotic would no longer work against killing the bacteria.
Antibiotics can be life-saving drugs, so we should reserve them for when they are absolutely needed.
Follow your provider’s recommendation
If you are diagnosed with a bacterial infection that requires an antibiotic, the safest way to use the antibiotic is to follow your provider’s recommendation in terms of dose and duration. “It is advisable to use the minimum effective dose for the least amount of time,” adds. Dr. Akinsanya.
In addition, it may be beneficial to take a probiotic in between doses to promote the “good” bacteria and maintain your gut health while on a course of antibiotics.
Taking preventive health measures, like getting a flu shot, frequent handwashing and practicing social distancing, can help reduce your risk of colds, flu, COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses. If you are experiencing symptoms of an infection, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider to discuss treatment and next steps.