What You Need To Know About Antibiotics

What You Need To Know About Antibiotics



Antibiotic, please?

“I have a sinus headache that has been constant for 3 days. The same thing happened about 2 months ago, went to my doctor, and Z-pak helped. I have 24 hours to get my 3 kids settled before I fly out for a 48-hour work trip for a big case. Antibiotic, please?”

“I’m a stay at home mom taking care of 3 boys coughing my head off for 4 nights. I don’t have time to be sick. Antibiotic, please?

“I have sinus pressure that is nagging 24/7. I work full-time, traveling out of town for work tomorrow, and a mother of two little girls. I am already dragging, exhausted, and cannot afford to be sick. Yesterday (day 5), my sinus gunk started moving to my chest and I have a wicked cough waking me up. Antibiotic, please?”

These three busy-bee moms are undoubtedly sick and feel like they have been hit by a truck. Presenting to their trusted healthcare practitioner to make them better, each of these individuals are suffering from a virus. A wicked virus that is waging a knock-down, drag out war on their body. That virus is causing fever, chills, and a heavy current to fight against as they wade through the day. Conditions caused by viruses include influenza, bronchitis, and most sinus infections, sore throats and other upper respiratory infections.

The Unfortunate Truth About Viruses

Antibiotics do not treat viruses. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. That’s right, that sinus pressure you’ve had for 6 days or that nuisance cough that started last week typically do not require antibiotics for treatment. Studies show that 29% of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary3.

In lieu of antibiotics, you’ll have more luck finding relief with over-the-counter medications to curb your sinus hangover, sore throat, and cough. Not sure what to get? Afraid of medication interactions? Ask your pharmacist or clinic practitioner for guidance. Save the antibiotic in the event a secondary infection creeps in (for example, pneumonia, bacterial sinusitis, or severe ear infection) or other bacterial infections occur.

“Just in Case” Antibiotics

A prescription for an antibiotic “just in case” is misguided as it generates unnecessary risk to the individual taking the medication and contributes to the situation where a patient in need of an antibiotic may encounter issues with antimicrobial, or “super bug” resistance.  Catching an antibiotic resistant infection can lead to an array of complications, the worst being sepsis, a life-threatening response to an infection, and death.

More Harm Than Good

What is the harm in taking an antibiotic?  Studies show that many times antibiotics are doing more harm than good. Adverse drug reactions from antibiotic exposure occur in 1 out of every 5 patients and are implicated in 19.3% of all emergency department visits. In addition, about 70,000 pediatric emergency department visits each year are due to negative effects of antibiotics3.

Yikes! Next time you are sick, have a candid discussion with your healthcare practitioner about the need for antibiotic use. Are there better, safer options for you? Be an advocate for yourself and limit your risk of landing in the emergency department and mounting costly bills due to untowardly side effects. Antibiotics should only be taken for indicated conditions and when benefits outweigh the risks.

The gut microbiome consists of trillions of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract and aid healthy processing of vitamins and minerals. Antibiotics are unable to distinguish good bacteria from bad bacteria. As a result, the microorganisms that contribute to optimal gut health are also affected, weakening immune response. Studies show that while most of the good gut bacteria are replenished to normal amounts after 4 weeks, some of the bacteria remained at suboptimal levels for 6 months or longer2. The long-term effects of healthy microbiome disruption are not entirely known, but it is of concern, and another reason to skip unnecessary antibiotics.

Super Bugs

Over the past few decades, the healthcare field has been studying and identifying the problems of super bugs. The term “super bug” is used to refer to bacteria that has become resistant to antibiotic(s) that are usually used to treat it. The bacteria changes in a way that reduces the effectiveness of antibiotics and poses one of the most pressing public health threats. This is called antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic use is the single most important contributing factor to antibiotic resistance, and up to one-third to one-half of antibiotic use in humans is either unnecessary or inappropriate. Each year in the United States, 47 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are written in doctors’ offices, emergency rooms, and hospital-based clinics. This makes prescribing and using antibiotics a national priority1.

By limiting antibiotic use to infections, in which it is deemed necessary, you protect yourself and others from generating super bugs which prevent effectiveness when an antibiotic is really needed.

Appropriate Antibiotic Use

Don’t boycott antibiotic use altogether! Antibiotics have their place and time, when they are not only recommended, but also vital to kill bad bacteria for a safe return to health.

U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week

U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week (USAAW) is an annual observance to raise awareness of the threat of antibiotic resistance and emphasize the importance of appropriate antibiotic use across.

Interested in learning more? Additional education resources are available through the CDC.


1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016). 1 in 3 antibiotics prescriptions unnecessary. Retrieved on November 13, 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0503-unnecessary-prescriptions.html

2Dethlefsen, L, et al (2008). The Pervasive effects of an antibiotic on human gut microbiota, as revealed by depp 16S rRNA Sequencing. PLoS Biol. 2008 Nov; 6(11): e280. November 2018, 10.1371/journal.pbio.0060280

3Lovegrove MC, et al (2018). US emergency repartment visits for adverse drug events from antibiotics in children, 2011-2015. Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, November 2019 8(5):384-3918, https://doi.org/10.1093/jpids/piy066

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.


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