July 15, 2021
5 min. read

What to Know When You’re Prescribed Antibiotics


It’s a common thought for many of us. When we feel sick and can’t shake our symptoms: we think we should probably head to our primary care doctor and get prescribed an antibiotic.

For years this was also the approach in general by the medical community. A “better to be safe than sorry” approach. But in the last decade, as drug-resistant bacteria becomes more of a threat, antibiotics are being prescribed more conservatively.

Antibiotics were first discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming in the form of penicillin. These medications are responsible for saving the lives of millions of people over the last century.

But sometimes doctors overprescribe them and rely on their benefits to the point where they may not be necessary. Many people have now come to think that every time they get a cold they need an antibiotic.

This may come as a surprise, but around one-third of all antibiotic prescriptions given to people in this country weren’t necessary. This has caused many new bacteria strains that are antibiotic-resistant. These conditions are much more difficult to treat.

Before you’re prescribed an antibiotic by your doctor, you need to know exactly what illnesses antibiotics actually treat.


What do antibiotics do?

Antibiotics aren’t miracle drugs that cure whatever is wrong with you. Antibiotics heal infections caused by different types of bacteria. If you’re suffering from a virus, antibiotics won’t work to cure you. So your illness must first be diagnosed as bacterial or viral in origin.

Which illnesses are bacterial and which are viral?

Bacterial infections:

  • Skin infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Strep throat

Viral infections:

  • Influenza
  • Common Cold
  • Bronchitis

A sinus or ear infection could be caused by a virus or a bacterial infection. Studies showed that 17 million patients have been prescribed antibiotics for sinus infections. Half of these prescriptions weren’t needed. In regard to acute respiratory infections, antibiotics were only appropriate in half of those cases. Viruses are responsible for most upper respiratory infections, not bacteria.

In the case of a virus, you have to let it run its course. This can sometimes last for several weeks. Everyone wants to rid their bodies of these viruses, but you don’t want to take medicine that you don’t need, or worse, doesn’t work.

There are risks associated with the prescription of antibiotics. Amoxicillin has several negative side effects. Azithromycin can sometimes cause fatal arrhythmia in patients who may already have a heart condition. Antibiotics are the reason that one out of five patients has ended up having to go to the emergency room.

These are several reasons to avoid taking antibiotics when they’re ineffective in treating your illness, but there’s another major concern as well: antibiotic-resistant infections.

antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic-Resistant Infections

Scientists work tirelessly for years to create new antibiotics. But there’s been a decrease in the last 30 years. For decades doctors prescribed the same antibiotics that had worked really well in the past. But in recent years that’s changed.

Bacteria continue to evolve with the passage of time and changes in the environment. The more often a bacteria comes in contact with an antibiotic the better it becomes at resisting it. This principle can be applied to viruses as well. The antibiotic doesn’t work to destroy the virus but instead begins to wage war on bacteria in the body that weren’t the culprit. This bacteria in turn adapts to the antibiotic to avoid being the target the next time it’s introduced.

As the bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, the longer you may have to take them. You may even need to increase the strength or dosage. This can get to a point where any antibiotics that are ingested orally, become ineffective and have to be administered intravenously. Or, become completely ineffective.

patient provider

Controlling Antibiotic Overuse

Health professionals are becoming more mindful of whether the antibiotics they’re prescribing are really needed. They’re learning to not yield to a patient’s demands for antibiotics when they know they’re not going to work on that patient’s disorder.

Programs developed for the prescription of antibiotics can be useful for health professionals to identify the right antibiotic to administer for a particular bacteria strain. Doctors can also provide educational material to their patients in their offices or on websites. By informing their patients about the benefits and risks of antibiotic usage, the hope is that they’ll see less antibiotic overuse.

Tips for Using Antibiotics Responsibly

Here are three ways you can assist in the fight against resistant antibiotics:

  • Sometimes a patient gets an antibiotic and after two days they’re reporting that it’s not working. It takes longer for your immune system to rid your body of viruses. Just because you got an antibiotic for the last time you were sick and it worked, doesn’t mean you need the same thing now. It could have been a bacterial infection and the antibiotic you were prescribed was effective. You could have also been suffering from a virus and it went away on its own, and the antibiotic you were prescribed had no effect at all.
  • If you’ve been prescribed an antibiotic you should adhere to the following guidelines. Take them as your doctor prescribed them. Finish the entire prescription. Even if all your symptoms have gone.
  • Avoid self-prescribing antibiotics. Don’t use outdated medications for your current infection. Also remember, your prescription is for your specific needs. Don’t share them with your friends or family members.

Antibiotic uses

Simple Relief From Cold And Upper Respiratory Symptoms

There are several over-the-counter products available to at least lessen the symptoms:

  • Cough: An expectorant or suppressant
  • Sinus pressure and congestion: Nasal spray, nasal or oral decongestant
  • Sore throat: Honey & lemon tea, gargling with salt water, Lozenges
  • Fever: Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, or aspirin

Sleep and hydration are crucial. Your immune system will work, but you need time to heal. Also, you should quarantine so you don’t pass the infection onto anyone else. Visit your physician if you have a fever that lasts longer than 3 days, or are still sick after 10 days.

We need antibiotics in our lives to help us all stay well. We want them to continue to be effective in the future. Helping to ensure that happens means administering them responsibly and only when necessary.


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