Antibiotics: When You Need Them And When You Don’t

An antibiotics course is the only thing that comes to our mind when we want to get rid of our running nose, stuffed-up head, and the annoying cough. But do you know, antibiotics are drugs effective only for bacterial infections and not viral infections? Every infection is not necessarily a bacterial infection.

With the regular and frequent intake of antibiotics for every kind of infections, our body reaches a level of antibiotic resistance which means an antibiotic becomes ineffective in killing or stopping the growth of the bacteria. Such resistant infections usually need more costly drugs, more medical care or longer hospital stays.

So, let us understand about the common ailments requiring antibiotics and ones which do not:

1.Children’s sore throat and runny nose:

When not to take antibiotics

1. Upper respiratory tract infections such as common cold, flu are caused by viruses. Antibiotics kill only bacteria and not viruses. The cold usually last for a week and will go away on their own with plenty of rest and fluids. You may give your child over-the-counter medications to relieve some of the symptoms of the cold.

2. Strep throat is caused by bacteria and the symptoms include fever, redness, and trouble swallowing. But not all children with the above symptoms will have a strep throat. You should get a strep test of your child before giving antibiotics.

Consider antibiotics if:

1. A cough doesn’t get better in 14 days.

2. The doctor diagnoses a bacterial illness, like strep throat.

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When not to take antibiotics

Bronchitis is usually caused by a virus or extreme pollutants and dust. Acute bronchitis in otherwise healthy adults does not need to be treated with antibiotics.

Consider antibiotics if

You have the symptoms of chronic bronchitis such as coughing with large amounts of mucus, wheezing, and chest discomfort.

3.Sinus infections

When not to take antibiotics

A sinus infection can be bacterial, viral, fungal or due to allergies. But most sinus infections are caused by viruses and do not require antibiotics. Even when bacteria are the cause, the infections usually clear up on their own in about a week’s time.

Consider antibiotics if

You have a high fever, cough and thick colored mucus for three or more days in a row.

4.Urinary Tract Infections

When not to take antibiotics

1. Older people often have bacteria in their urine with no symptoms of UTI. In such cases, antibiotics are not needed.

2. UTI is accompanied by painful and frequent urination, lower abdominal pain and bloody urine and affects women more than men.

Consider antibiotics if

1. You who have recurrent UTIs (especially women).

2. If you have had a kidney transplant.

3. If you are going to have surgery involving urinary tract.

4. For a severe UTI, you may need treatment with intravenous antibiotics in a hospital.

5.Ear infections in children

When not to take antibiotics

Ear infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria. Most ear infections improve on their own in two or three days in children age two or older.

Consider antibiotics if

1. Babies of age six months or younger.

2. Only ear infections with discharge from the ear caused by a burst eardrum should be prescribed antibiotics only if symptoms do not improve within three days, or if there are symptoms of a more serious illness.

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6.Eye infections such as Pink eye or Conjunctivitis

When not to take antibiotics

Pink eye also known as conjunctivitis is usually caused by a virus or allergy. Even bacterial pinkeye goes away on its own within a span of 10 days.

Consider antibiotics if

The eye is very swollen or painful or develops a thick, pus-like discharge.

The bottom line

Instead of asking your doctor for an antibiotic course, ask what you can do to feel better and ease your symptoms by taking rest and lots of fluids to help your body fight the infection.

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