Dangers of antibiotic misuse

Stay educated about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance.

According to Blue Care Network of Michigan antibiotics can be misused. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say four out of five Americans are prescribed antibiotics each year. How much do you know about antibiotics and their proper use?

Antibiotics are considered very strong drugs and must be taken properly to be effective. An antibiotic is designed to treat illnesses and infections that are caused by bacteria. Illnesses like strep throat and urinary tract infections can be treated by an antibiotic, but viruses will not be cured by an antibiotic. They also don’t prevent you from catching an illness from someone else.

Many believe that taking an antibiotic will help with the flu, runny noses or the common cold. These are all caused by viruses and an antibiotic won’t be helpful in making the symptoms go away. Discuss symptoms with your doctor or a pharmacist; ask for recommendations for at-home remedies or over-the-counter medicines and always be careful to follow label instructions. Remember the doctor knows best and it isn’t a good idea to pressure them for antibiotics when you or your children aren’t feeling well.

Antibiotics are the most common cause of emergency department visits for adults (20 percent) due to negative drug reactions. They are also the most common cause of emergency room visits for children under 18 according to the CDC.

Be sure your sore throat is caused by bacteria and needs to be treated with antibiotics (strep throat).  Most sore throats are caused by the common cold or flu, only five to 15 percent of adults and 20 to 30 percent of cases in children actually need antibiotics when they complain of a sore throat.

The CDC states that a sinus infection (sinusitis) does not usually need to be treated with antibiotics in order to get better. Nine out of 10 cases in adults and five to seven of 10 cases in children are usually caused by a virus.  Risk factors increase for children when they go to daycare, use a pacifier, drink from a bottle when lying down and are exposed to secondhand smoke. For adults risks increase when they’ve had a previous infection or cold, a weak immune system, or allergies. Medical care should be sought when a temperature is higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, symptoms are worsening or lasting more than 10 days, if you’ve had multiple sinus infections in the past year or if symptoms are not relieved with over-the-counter medicines.

Finally, it is important to remember that bacteria that cause illness and infections can become resistant to antibiotics. If you take these medicines when they are not needed, they can kill good bacteria that protect your body from harmful bacteria. This can cause future infections to quickly spread to family members, coworkers and friends. Antibiotics can kill the healthy bacteria in your gut, allowing more harmful bacteria, such as C. difficile to grow in its place. Work with your health care provider to determine what the best course of medicine is for you or your child to follow. 

Michigan State University Extension recommends washing hands frequently after coughing, blowing your nose, sneezing and using the bathroom. Avoid smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke and use a clean humidifier to moisten the air in your home. During cold and flu season, make sure you are consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, if you should begin to feel unwell, have nutrient rich fluids on hand to keep you hydrated. Also, remember a nice hot soup is always good when you or someone in your family is feeling sick. Homemade soup is nice but store bought can be “doctored” with veggies to give it that homemade look and taste when you are short on time.

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