Nobody wants to be sick. And when we are sick, we want the doctor to fix us. But insisting on an antibiotic for a common cold, the flu—or even bronchitis—is not always the answer.
Antibiotics are powerful medications, but they are losing effectiveness because they are often used inappropriately. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminded us during U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week in November, most cases of bronchitis are caused by viruses, not bacteria. And antibiotics do not help treat viruses. The key is to talk to your doctor about the right course of treatment for your illness.
In addition, these medications are not without side effects, some of which can be pretty nasty. Taking antibiotics when they are not needed can lead to diarrhea, rashes, and stomach pain. More severe (but rare) side effects can include serious allergic reactions and kidney issues.
Worst of all, using an antibiotic when you don’t need one will encourage the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can spread among family members, schoolmates, and co-workers—threatening your community with a new strain of microbes that are more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat. The consequences can include longer-lasting illnesses, more doctor visits, intravenous antibiotics, and hospitalizations. Some resistant infections can even be deadly.
Keep these antibiotic safety pointers in mind:
Remember, your cough or nasal discharge may last two weeks or more. Refer to the chart below whenever you are sick to assess your symptoms.