Antibiotics don’t help the common cold, other viruses | Dr. Callie Byrd

Covington Clinic South has been extremely busy the last several months with patients coming in with coughs, runny noses and cold and flu-like symptoms.

Hopefully this does not sound familiar to you. But if it does, what did your doctor recommend to alleviate your symptoms? Plenty of rest and liquids? Over the counter cold or flu medicine? Or were you prescribed antibiotics?

How your provider decides if you are experiencing a viral illness or have an infection that requires antibiotics is a very important topic since most of the time the achy cold and flu symptoms will go away without requiring antibiotics. Antibiotics are important to treat certain infections, of course, but if we continue to overuse them they will start to become ineffective.

Some studies report as many as 10 million antibiotics are prescribed every year unnecessarily for infections. That is a huge number! This increase can lead to antibiotic resistance — a problem when you have a serious infection that does require antibiotics.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report last month in the journal Pediatrics entitled Principles of Judicious Antibiotic Prescribing for Bacterial Upper Respiratory Tract Infections in Pediatrics to help providers determine when it is appropriate to prescribe antibiotics. The report advises that physicians should only prescribe antibiotics if the patient has a bacterial infection, if the benefits of treating with antibiotics outweigh the risks and possible side effects of the medicine, and lastly to be “judicious” when prescribing antibiotics.

So, how can you help the antibiotic overuse problem? Realize that in most cases antibiotics may not help your child. Make sure that your child only takes an antibiotic when it is necessary. Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses and are used to treat infections caused by bacteria. Most of the time antibiotics do not help the common cold, flu, bronchitis, or sinus infections which are caused by viruses. Even sinus infections and some ear infections will eventually get better on their own without the help of an antibiotic.

As I have mentioned, a primary reason to avoid antibiotics unless it is absolutely necessary is antibiotic resistance. The more we use antibiotics the stronger the bacteria become and the harder it is to treat a severe infection that actually needs antibiotics. Additionally, all medicines, including antibiotics, have risks. Common side effects include abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting — it is also possible to have severe allergic reactions to antibiotics.

All that being said, there may be times when your child will need antibiotics — illnesses that require antibiotics include bacterial pneumonia, whooping cough, a cough lasting more than two weeks, sinusitis that is worsening, and strep throat which is diagnosed by a rapid strep test at your doctor’s office, just to name a few examples.

When your child is prescribed antibiotics it is important to use them safely – give them as directed and finish the prescription – even if your child is feeling better. Stopping the antibiotics before you have finished the entire course can lead to resistance. Make sure that you throw away any unused or expired antibiotics and only give them to the person they were prescribed to! Giving your child’s antibiotics to another sibling or friend may cause harm if given inappropriately.

So the next time you visit your doctor, hopefully this information will help explain why you, or your child, may or may not receive an antibiotic for your illness.


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