Antibiotics-When They Can and Can’t Help

Source from Blue Cross Blue Shield Newsletter

Antibiotics have given many, who are sick, a much needed sense of comfort when their sickness is caused by a bacterial infection. But, when antibiotics are given under the wrong conditions, they can upset our immune system.

Antibiotics are helpful and needed for getting better when a bacterial infection, such as strep throat, is found. But not all sore throats are strep, and most sore throats are caused by a virus. Doctors can make sure of this with the “rapid strep test.” If strep is found, then an antibiotic is the appropriate treatment.

Antibiotics are not helpful when it comes to treating viral infections such as bronchitis and ear or sinus infections. While these common ailments come with signs that feel bacterial, they are, in fact, not. If you have a viral infection, your doctor may tell you to:

  • Increase fluid intake
  • Use a cool mist vaporizer for congestion relief
  • Take an over-the-counter medication to ease symptoms
  • Get a flu shot and any other needed vaccines

Note: If you have a chronic condition such as cystic fibrosis or emphysema, your doctor may order an antibiotic to treat your viral infection.

If your doctor does not suggest an antibiotic, it is with good reason. Incorrect use of antibiotics can have poor consequences:

  • An increase in antibiotic-resistant germs, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) occurs from inappropriate use of antibiotics for viral infections.
  • Antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing health problems. with an estimated 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths caused each year in the U.S. by antibiotic resistant bacterial infections
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 40,000 children are treated in ERs every year for having a bad reaction from antibiotics