The Do's and Don'ts of Antibiotics
It starts out as the sniffles, but by the time you wake up the next morning, you know it’s here: a cold. And it feels like a bad one. Stuffy head, sore throat, coughing, sneezing, the works. Time to call the doctor and get some antibiotics, right? Maybe not.
Antibiotics can be powerful medicine. But you have to use them safely and correctly. And sometimes that means not using them at all.
Know your germs
The first thing to know is that antibiotics are not an all-purpose cure. They can be a big help if you have a bacterial infection, such as pneumonia. But antibiotics don’t work against viruses, which cause most respiratory infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), doctors should not prescribe antibiotics for viral illnesses, including the common cold, flu, bronchitis and most sore throats and sinus infections.
Antibiotics work by fighting bacteria that make you sick, either by killing them or stopping them from growing. But sometimes, bacteria learn how to resist an antibiotic. The more often antibiotics are used, the bigger the risk that this can happen. And you can end up with stronger bacteria that are more difficult to treat. These resistant bacteria can cause serious illness or even death.
Ask the expert
Not sure if you have a virus or bacterial infection? Talk with your doctor. Many infections, even bacterial ones, will clear up on their own without any antibiotic treatment. However, if you have a bacterial infection and your doctor prescribes you an antibiotic, you should follow his or her orders and let the medicine work for you.
Antibiotics Do’s and Don’ts
take antibiotics for bacterial infections when and if directed by your doctor.
take all of the antibiotic as prescribed. If you use only part of the medicine, it can mean you treated only part of the infection.
take antibiotics for common cold symptoms like runny noses and coughs. Your body will fight off the illness on its own.
ask for or take antibiotics unless your doctor says you need them. They won’t help and won’t prevent other people from catching your cold. And they can create stronger bacteria that are harder to treat.