Antibiotics have had a positive effect on public health since first being introduced to modern medicine. However, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about antibiotics, how they work, and when they’re necessary. The overuse of antibiotics is a major problem in the United States, and in many cases, these drugs are not effective against the illnesses they’re prescribed to treat—particularly with viral infection.
While no one likes getting sick, feeling under the weather doesn’t necessarily mean that antibiotics are the solution. Here are a few important things to understand about these medications, including when they are and are not useful in treating illness.
1. Antibiotics Are Effective Against Bacteria—Not Viruses
Coming down with a cold or flu can be enough to make anyone feel downright miserable. While many people think they need an antibiotic in order to “knock out” whatever is making them sick, the fact is that antibiotics are not effective in treating infections such as influenza and the common cold, both of which are caused by viruses. Antibiotic medications are specifically designed to treat infections caused by bacteria and do nothing to shorten the duration of colds, the flu, or similar viral illnesses.
2. They’re Not Always Helpful, Even with Certain Bacterial Infections
It’s common for viral illnesses like the common cold to progress into stubborn diagnoses like bronchitis, sinus or ear infections and while bacteria may eventually play a role (such as with stubborn viral infections that turn bacterial), these types of infections tend to be self-limiting. This means that treatment with antibiotics isn’t always necessary and may not even be helpful in certain cases.
3. Taking Antibiotics Unnecessarily is Not Harmless
“Even if an antibiotic isn’t guaranteed to help clear up an infection, why not take it anyways just to be on the safe side?”
The answer to this question comes down to what is commonly referred to as “antibiotic resistance.” That is, the very bacteria these drugs are designed to kill can actually adapt to the presence of antibiotics in the body due to overuse. In rare cases, this could potentially lead to the development of drug-resistant bacterial infections, which can be fatal. On a larger scale, societal overuse of these drugs has resulted in “superbugs” such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a strain of staph that is difficult to treat due to its resistance to certain antibiotics.
4. Antibiotics Should Always Be Taken as Prescribed
Your provider will determine if antibiotics are necessary. If you are prescribed antibiotics, it is important to take them as directed. Many people begin feeling better after just a single dose of antibiotic therapy, in which case they decide they don’t need to continue taking the rest of the prescription. This can cause the infection to return, however, which is just one example of why it’s so important to take antibiotics exactly as they have been prescribed. Additionally, any leftover antibiotics from past illnesses should be properly discarded as opposed to “saved” for a later illness, which could be dangerous if taken without specific instruction from a treating provider.
At ConvenientMD, we take great care in only prescribing antibiotics when deemed absolutely necessary after a thorough evaluation. Our staff can answer any questions you may have regarding treatment, from how to properly take the medication to any potential side effects that might exist. If we do not feel that antibiotics are called for, we’ll develop a tailored treatment plan to help get you back on your feet again.