Coughs and colds are very common illnesses, affecting adults on an average of 2-3 times a year. Sneezing, stuffy noses, coughing and sore throats and other similar symptoms often get people wondering – do I need antibiotics?
While being sick is unpleasant, taking medication is not always the answer. In fact, in the case of antibiotics, overuse is a major cause for concern amongst health professionals. So the next time you visit your doctor with symptoms of an upper respiratory infection and ask about medications, remember these common misconceptions about antibiotics.
Myth 1: Antibiotics work for all infections
Antibiotics are designed to fight bacterial infections, and only bacterial infections. They have no effect against viral infections, which means they are not effective if you are seeking relief from the flu or a common cold.
However, many people still continue to use antibiotics when they suffer from a cold or a bout of flu, often self-medicating and running the risk of antibiotic overuse.
There is no benefit – either to your cold, flu or overall health – in self-medicating. Instead you should visit a doctor and be as specific as possible about all your symptoms so that they can narrow down the cause – be it bacterial or viral. This will help the doctor to prescribe the correct course of treatment for your situation, giving you relief much more quickly.
Myth 2: There’s no harm in taking antibiotics without a proper prescription
The biggest problem with overusing antibiotics isn’t the unnecessary cost of buying medication you don’t need – it’s the fact that bacteria adapts.
So the more you take a particular kind of antibiotic for an unrelated illness, the more resistant bacteria get over time, making it harder to treat them. What’s more, in certain cases, they evolve to cause drug-resistant infections that can be deadly.
And when you do end up suffering from a serious infection, it can be difficult to find effective drug options to treat these drug-resistant bacteria.
Myth 3: Antibiotics are interchangeable
Say you suffered from a urinary tract infection and were prescribed antibiotics. Now would you use the same antibiotics to treat your strep throat? Hopefully you answered no. And here’s why that matters – taking the wrong antibiotic isn’t just ineffective in treating the infection, but could also result in you suffering unpleasant and unwanted side effects from it
While, in most cases, the side effects of antibiotics are quite mild, taking broad spectrum antibiotics used to fight infections in hospitals for an extended period of time can put you at risk for clostridium difficile (C. diff) Infection, a severe and hard-to-treat infection.
Myth 4: Antibiotics can be saved for later use
If certain antibiotics worked the last time you were ill, when similar symptoms start creeping in, it’s natural to reach for the medicine cabinet and use the leftover medication.
However, that’s not a good approach. Different antibiotics treat different types of bacterial infections, and as much as your symptoms may feel the same as last time, you have no way of being sure it is the same type of infection. Taking the wrong medication may make things worse, putting you at risk of side effects and future drug resistance.
Antibiotics are case-specific medications that should only be taken when prescribed by a doctor and used exactly as prescribed.