You’re feeling lousy and just want some relief from your runny nose and coughs. Is your first thought, I need an antibiotic?
The truth is, you probably don’t — since most acute illnesses with cough and runny nose are caused by viruses, like the flu, which aren’t affected by antibiotics. In fact, taking an antibiotic for these symptoms can actually do harm.
“Taking antibiotics incorrectly can cause normal bacteria in your nose, throat, GI tract and skin to develop antibiotic-resistant qualities, which they can pass along to other bacteria,” said Dr. Jim Wilde, a pediatric emergency room physician and infectious disease expert at Augusta University Medical Center. “As a result, traditional antibiotics, such as penicillin, become increasingly less effective against bacteria they normally could treat. The consequence of this is the potential for the spread of disease, longer recoveries and even death.”
Your guide to more responsible use:
Your health care provider has procedures he or she has to follow to prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant disease. Here’s how you can do your part:
- Don’t insist on being prescribed an antibiotic. Instead, ask about tips for treating viral illnesses, from over-the-counter medications to home remedies to antiviral medications.
- Follow directions for dosing exactly as prescribed. If you are prescribed 10 days of medication, finish it, even if you feel better.
- If for some reason you can’t finish the full course, dispose of any leftover antibiotics safely. Follow the directions on the prescription drug label, and ask your pharmacist if you have questions. (Do not flush medicines down the sink or toilet unless you are directed to do so.)
- Never use anyone else’s antibiotics, and never order antibiotics online.
- Wash hands regularly.
Next time you’re feeling under the weather, ask your doctor whether it’s the cause of a bacteria or virus. Remember, antibiotics won’t help against viruses like the norovirus or influenza virus.