Do you Need an Antibiotic?

Do you really need that antibiotic?When you’re sick – really sick – you want nothing more than to have the misery go away. You have a life, after all, and nobody has time to feel lousy.

Many of us think that if only we can get to the doctor and get a potent prescription, we could get to feeling better and back to our life. So we go, and according to recent studies, many of our doctors are handing out prescriptions for antibiotics even if they know it won’t do any good.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a letter recently that shows doctors prescribe antibiotics for acute bronchitis at a 70% rate, despite evidence that shows antibitoics are not effective against respiratory illness. Drs. Michael Barnett and Jeffrey Linder with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston commented, “Despite clear evidence, guidelines, quality measures and more than 15 years of educational efforts stating that the antibiotic prescribing rate should be zero …  physicians continue to prescribe expensive, broad-spectrum antibiotics.”

Should I Take an Antibiotic for It?

Let’s take a look at some of the most common illnesses and discuss if antibiotics are helpful in treating them.

Cold and Flu

Since colds and flu are caused by viruses, the important thing to remember is prevention. Get vaccinated every year if you are at risk for contracting the flu, and if you do catch it, talk with your physician about an antiviral drug to speed up recovery time. Antibiotics are completely useless against viral infections. Colds generally hang on for seven to 10 days, and will go away with rest and plenty of fluids.


Generally speaking, acute bronchitis does not need antibiotic treatment. The JAMA explains certain exceptions. “Patients with complicating factors such as emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may receive antibiotics since these patients are more susceptible to developing secondary bacterial infections.”

Ear Infections

Ear infections are a little trickier. They can be caused by viruses or bacteria, and it’s up to your doctor to determine the cause. Most physicians prefer to not test for ear infections, since the test requires puncturing the eardrum and culturing the infected fluid. Some doctors prefer to wait to see if the infection clears up on its own, while others prefer to stay on the ‘safe side’ and prescribe antibiotics.


Pneumonia has three potential causes: bacteria, viruses and fungi. Your physician will need to determine the cause before prescribing medication.

Sinus Infection

Sinus infections can have several causes:  bacteria, viruses, fungus, or even allergies. However, most sinus infections are caused by viruses, and don’t require antibiotics. There are exceptions though, so if you have severe symptoms, high fever, and a productive cough, your doctor may choose to prescribe a course of antibiotics.

Strep Throat

Strep throat is caused one of several strains of strep bacteria, is treatable by antibiotics, and should be treated as soon as possible to avoid potential complications. However, don’t think that every sore throat is a strep infection. Most cases of sore throat are not strep. High fever, fatigue, white patches on tonsils, and lack of other cold symptoms are indicative of strep. If you suspect strep, contact your doctor.

Antibiotics:  Dos and Don’ts

Used properly, antibiotics can save lives. Using antibiotics improperly can and has caused the creation and spread of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. What should you do?

  • Only take antibiotics when they are prescribed by your own physican.
  • Take your course of antibiotics completely.
  • If there are antibiotics left over, dispose of them responsibly.
  • Do not take leftover antibiotics at a later time.
  • Do not give antibiotics to friends or family for their ailments.
  • Don’t ask your physician for antibiotics.  Instead, express your intent to not take antibiotics unnecessarily.  Accept a prescription only if your physician insists the course of treatment is necessary.

We understand you want to feel better quickly! While you wait for your cold or flu to improve, stop in and pick up over-the-counter relief and a few friendly smiles from our helpful staff. We care about your health!

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