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My mother keeps taking antibiotics for every small cold and flu attack that she has. I have heard it is bad to do so. How exactly is it harmful and when should one use antibiotics?
The on-going war on antibiotics and the term 'antibiotic resistance' has scared everyone about the use, overuse and misuse of antibiotics. It's true that antibiotics are not needed every time you suffer from cold and cough, but the symptoms shouldn't be ignored to an extent that the infection becomes worse. Antibiotics are truly a boon to medical science because they have the ability to stop infections and are life-saving in many cases, but in some circumstances using them could cause more harm than good. Here's why:
The lead to antibiotic resistance in the causative organism: Antibiotics work by attacking the outer covering of a bacteria (that is the most common method), when you don't complete your course of antibiotics or eat them indiscriminately, bacteria that commonly cause infection mutate to produce an outer covering that is resistant to destruction by the antibiotic. This is dangerous because there are only so many antibiotics and if bacteria become resistant to all of them then we will be left with no method to treat bacterial infections.
Can lead to secondary infections in people: Indiscriminate use of antibiotics kills good bacteria in your body. These bacteria are your natural defense against opportunistic infections. So, by killing these god bacteria you are essential setting yourself up to become more sick.
Therefore, while having antibiotics under a doctor's supervision is essential, not eating them at all could cause more problems. To help clear your confusion, here are a few ways that can help you to determine whether or not you need an antibiotic for your infection.
Don't use them for viral infections: A viral infection, as the name suggests is due to a virus. Considering the fact that antibiotics are meant to treat a bacterial infection only, it will be ineffective against viruses. Moreover currently there is no cure for viral infections. In fact, if you take antibiotics for viral infections, it increases your chances of developing a bacterial infection which might be resistant to those antibiotics. Read more about how bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics.
How to recognise a viral infection:Common cold or flu with runny nose and green mucus are a sign of viral infection. The good news here is that minor viral infections do resolve on their own, all you need to do is rest well and try some natural remedies for common cold. You may start feeling better within two weeks if you have common flu, but, if your symptoms become worse then you may have developed a secondary bacterial infection because of a weakened immunity. This is a characteristic feature of secondary infections, which should be treated with antibiotics.
Fever is a classic sign of a bacterial infection: If your cold and cough is accompanied by high fever and chills then there's a possibility that you may be suffering from a bacterial infection which needs antibiotic treatment.
Treating a cough with antibiotics:Productive cough with thick yellow-green mucus that does not get better even after 2 weeks needs to be treated with antibiotics. Read more about side-effects of antibiotics.
Have a sore throat? Could be a viral or bacterial infection: Sore throat is caused by viral infection and doesn't need antibiotics. But strep throat is caused by bacterial infection. So, it's must for you to take the prescribed dose of antibiotic to clear the infection. Try these tips to treat sore throat.
You might need a course of antibiotics for a ear and sinus infection: Severe sinus infection that lasts for 2 weeks or more needs antibiotic treatment. Also, some ear infections caused by bacteria are also treated with antibiotics. Here are the various methods to diagnose and treat sinus infections.
Tips for antibiotic use:
Also, ensure that you complete your course of medicines as prescribed. Most importantly don't stop taking them once you start feeling better. This is the main reason for the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
A proper diagnosis is the only way to determine whether you need antibiotics or not. So, don't insist your doctor to prescribe antibiotics unnecessarily. Also, don't reuse leftover medicines if you suffer from common cold or flu in the future. It's better to discard them. Read more about current status of antibiotics' use in India.
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