CoronavirusOftentimes, when you find yourself waking up feeling terrible (sore throat, congestion and cough), the first thing to do is see your healthcare provider for a solution. However, it can be frustrating for patients who cannot be prescribed an antibiotic due to their symptoms resulting from a virus. “Why can’t I just use an antibiotic?” is a question my fellow providers and I receive often from patients. Keep reading for an in-depth answer.

Some people may feel like a healthcare provider who won’t prescribe an antibiotic may not have their best interests at heart, but this could not be further from the truth. We understand that when you’re not feeling well, the short-term may seem like a higher priority than the long. However, holding off on antibiotics is often in the patient’s best interest.

In recent years, episodes of antibiotic resistance have skyrocketed, leaving many first line antibiotics ineffective. Additionally, using antibiotics (especially when they may not be necessary) can kill off healthy bacteria in the body and increase your risk of certain infections. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 1 in 5 emergency department visits are a result of adverse effects of antibiotics, with that number being even higher among the pediatric population. 

What many patients do not understand is the fundamental difference between bacteria and a virus. Bacteria are organisms that can survive independently inside or outside of the body. Some of them serve a good purpose, while others can cause illness. Viruses, on the other hand, are much smaller and cause sickness by invading healthy cells. Antibiotics are used to kill bacteria cells, but have no impact on viruses.

For people who are skeptical of antibiotic resistance, it’s important to fully understand how the process works. For example, have you ever had that sinus infection that just won’t leave? Your provider gives you one antibiotic, then another because you still find yourself ill. That’s antibiotic resistance, on a very small scale. What just happened was the bacteria were not killed by the first line antibiotic. To personify the bacteria, they already met that antibiotic and have learned how to deal with it! This does not seem like too big of a deal initially, but when an entire population starts to have resistance, that antibiotic becomes useless.

This problem can become deadly for patients that are immunocompromised, those that are very young or very old, people with large numbers of drug allergies, or those that contract bacteria that is now resistant to everything (think MRSA or a flesh-eating bacteria). You may be healthy, but those around you may not be. Also, your future self may not be as healthy as you are right now. You may want an antibiotic at age 20 and be in a heap of trouble in your 80’s when you cannot fight off simple infections with antibiotics.

For patients with a virus in need of treatment, there are effective solutions available. Many over the counter remedies can be used to treat viral symptoms. In the case that you or your child is sick, it is always recommended to speak with your healthcare provider before starting any new medications. Additionally, patients with high blood pressure should take caution as certain medicines can increase blood pressure.

Thank you for taking a moment to read this post and for helping us help you to prevent antibiotic overuse. For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our healthcare providers, please contact Family Practice Center today. You can also follow us on Facebook for additional health tips, news, and much more.