A smiling doctor explains the overuse of antibiotics to a mother and her child.
Home > Healthy Living > Understanding the overuse of antibiotics

Understanding the overuse of antibiotics

Your nasty cold has turned into a hacking cough and a sore throat. Reluctantly, you drag yourself to the doctor, thinking a dose of antibiotics will take care of it.

To your surprise, your doctor doesn’t prescribe antibiotics. What gives?

The reason for this is simple: It’s called antibiotic resistance.

In short, the overuse of antibiotics is making them less effective at combating infection. As a result, your doctor may only prescribe antibiotics to treat certain kinds of infections.

What is antibiotic resistance?

Ever since the discovery of penicillin, antibiotics have been the key to saving millions of lives. But since antibiotics have become common, some types of bacteria have become resistant to certain types of antibiotics. As a result, many antibiotics just don’t work anymore.

Not only are they less effective, they can be harmful. Taking antibiotics when they’re not needed can promote the growth of bacteria-resistant germs in your body and destroy “good” bacteria in your intestines, causing an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria.

How to avoid the overuse of antibiotics

It’s best to let milder illnesses run their course. But leave it to your doctor to decide if an illness is mild or not. If your doctor determines that your illness is caused by bacterial infections, such as strep throat, sinus infection, whooping cough, or certain ear infections, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics.

Your doctor will most likely not prescribe antibiotics for the following conditions:

  • Cold
  • Flu
  • Bronchitis
  • Most coughs
  • Most sore throats
  • Some ear infections
  • Some sinus infections
  • Stomach flu

Alternatives to antibiotics

If your doctor diagnoses you with a viral infection, you have other, safer treatment options. To get on the road to recovery when you have a viral infection, you can:

  • Ask your doctor about over-the-counter treatment options that may help reduce symptoms
  • Drink more fluids
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Use a cool-mist vaporizer or over-the-counter saline nasal spray to relieve congestion
  • Soothe your throat with crushed ice, sore throat spray, or lozenges. (Do not give lozenges to young children)
  • Use honey to relieve a cough. (Do not give honey to an infant under one year of age)
  • If you are diagnosed with the flu, consider treating it with prescription drugs

Remember, you can avoid the overuse of antibiotics by never taking them without a prescription. Do not take antibiotics that are left over from a previous prescription.

Register for Castlight
Already have an account? Log in