By: Stephanie Smith Cooney, Pharm. D, President
It’s that time of year. The kids are in school, we’re indoors more, and the germs are busy doing their thing. Many myths surround antibiotics and the role they play in sickness. Below, I’ll list six different antibiotic myths that you’ll want to think about the next time you get sick.
Myth #1. Antibiotics are good for colds and flu. The common cold and the flu are caused by viruses. Antibiotics only work against bacterial infections, making them ineffective for colds, sore throats, the flu, and many ear and sinus infections.
Myth #2. Antibiotics have few side effects. They kill off normal bacteria, increasing the risk of other infections. Side effects include diarrhea, yeast infections, and rarely, nerve damage, torn tendons, and allergic reactions like rashes, swelling of face and throat, and breathing problems. Almost 1 in 5 emergency room visits for drug side effects are as a result of antibiotics. In children, antibiotics are the leading cause of such visits.
Myth #3. Antibiotics are taken for at least a week. Not always. For certain infections, such as urinary tract, sinus, and ear infections, a shorter course may work. Always ask the doctor for the shortest course of treatment necessary for your infection.
Myth #4. It’s fine to take leftover medication. Different types of infections require different types of antibiotics. More importantly, you may not even require antibiotic treatment for the infection you have. Taking leftover antibiotics when they’re not needed or correct can cause harmful bacteria to grow. Always discard unused antibiotics.
Myth #5. All bacterial infections require drugs. Mild infections often clear up on their own. Ask your doctor if you can delay treatment before asking for antibiotics. Many ear, sinus, and other infections will clear up on their own without treatment.
Myth #6. The more bacteria a drug kills, the better. Drugs that kill many types of bacteria, called broad-spectrum antibiotics, should be reserved for serious infections. Using the most appropriate antibiotic for the infection type helps to prevent drug resistance and the wiping out of large amounts of healthy bacteria as well.
The next time you get sick, rather than asking the doctor for an antibiotic immediately, consider these myths and have a discussion with your doctor about the best treatment for you. Remember that sometimes no treatment is the best treatment. Pharmacists are a good resource if you’re wondering if you should see the doctor, or you need help with an over-the-counter recommendation for your symptoms.
Remember that adequate sleep, hand-washing, appropriate vaccinations such as the flu shot, and a healthy lifestyle can go a long way to keeping you well. Here’s hoping you won’t need antibiotics and won’t find yourself sick often this winter.
The Gatti Team
Information, tips and more from the Gatti Pharmacists and staff.