When you have a pesky sore throat or a lingering cold, you may look for a quick fix. Antibiotics may seem like a good choice. But according to the latest guidelines on their proper use, for many common illnesses, antibiotics won’t help.
When to take antibiotics
Antibiotics were first discovered in 1928. They are now some of the strongest medicines in the world. They’re also some of the most misused. In fact, despite the overall drop in their use in the U.S., many adults still take them when they won’t do any good.
As a result, experts recently reassessed when these medicines should be used. They looked at the latest research on antibiotics. These medicines are a staple against health problems like bacterial infections. But they’re not suitable for four of the most common illnesses: bronchitis, sore throat, a simple sinus infection, and the common cold.
Why should you skip the antibiotics if you have one of these illnesses? Most of the time, these illnesses are caused by a virus. Antibiotics don’t work against viruses: Antibiotics work best in fighting infections from bacteria, fungus and parasites.
In certain cases, though, antibiotics may be warranted for some of these illnesses. Sometimes a sore threat may actually be strep throat caused by a bacteria called Streptococcal A. Your healthcare provider may also give you an antibiotic for a severe sinus infection. That’s one that worsens or doesn’t go away within a few weeks.
Why the concern
It may seem like taking an antibiotic wouldn’t be a bad thing. But misuse can allow harmful bacteria to change and reproduce. Then these bacteria can become resistant or immune to an antibiotic. This is called antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance is a growing concern worldwide. Bacteria can spread from person to person. Some bacteria don’t cause any problems and may even be helpful. But if you become infected with harmful bacteria, you may become sick. If those bacteria are resistant to certain antibiotics, your infection may be harder to treat. The antibiotics may simply not work.
5 ways to do your part to help stop antibiotic resistance
- Don’t take antibiotics for illnesses caused by a virus. That includes colds, most sore throats and coughs, and the flu. Your healthcare provider can tell you how best to treat these ailments.
- Never ask for antibiotics if your healthcare provider doesn’t recommend them.
- If your healthcare provider does give you an antibiotic, be sure to take all of it, and take it as directed. Not doing so can allow some of the bacteria to live and reproduce, raising the chance for bacteria to form some resistance.
- Don’t take an antibiotic that hasn’t been prescribed for you.
- If you have leftover medicine, always throw it out properly. Ask your healthcare provider for the best way to do so.