3 Times You Should Take Antibiotics (& When You Absolutely Should Not)

by Meghan

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This is a post prepared under a contract funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and written on behalf of the Mom It Forward Influencer Network for use in CDC’s Be Antibiotics Aware educational effort. Opinions on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CDC.

This cold and flu season was brutal. And my family was not immune. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I actually went to the doctor and ended up on antibiotics, not once, but twice for strep throat. I hadn’t had strep throat since I was a child, and it reminded me of all my trips to the pediatrician to get antibiotics—”the pink stuff,” as I called it. This is an experience my own kids have far less often than I did. I started to investigate why—is it because my children get sick less? Or are the rules for when you get antibiotics changing? As it turns out, antibiotics are still very widely prescribed. Each year, enough antibiotic prescriptions are written in doctors’ offices to give five out of every six people one prescription.

When You Should Take Antibiotics… & When You Shouldn’t

CDC wants you to be aware about antibioticstheir use, and the risk of side effects. As antibiotic use has increased, about 30 percent of antibiotics—or 47 million prescriptions—are prescribed unnecessarily in doctors’ offices and emergency departments in the United States. Moreover, 50 percent of all antibiotics are prescribed incorrectly (the wrong antibiotic, at the wrong dose, for the wrong length of time, or at the wrong time).

Be an informed patient—for your health, as well as your children’s. Learn more about when you should take antibiotics, when they aren’t needed, and what major risks are associated with antibiotic use.

Watch this video to learn more about when it is effective to take antibiotics.

3 Times You Should Absolutely Take Antibiotics

Antibiotics are only needed for treating certain infections caused by bacteria. Infections like the ones listed below are treated with antibiotics:

  • Strep throat
  • Whooping cough
  • Urinary tract infection

When You Shouldn’t Take Antibiotics

But sometimes antibiotics aren’t needed for some common bacterial infections, including many sinus infections and some ear infections. As a child, I was commonly prescribed antibiotics for sinus infections. Every year, the Texas oak pollen would descend to wreak havoc on my allergies, and I would end up with sinus infections and, on more than one occasion, bronchitis. Each and every time, my pediatrician would prescribe antibiotics and send me off to recover.

Some illnesses are not caused by bacteria. When you or your child doesn’t feel well, it can be tempting to go to the doctor and ask for antibiotics, assuming they’re a quick fix to feel better, but antibiotics do not work on viruses like:

  • The common cold or a runny nose
  • Flu
  • Bronchitis
  • Sore throat

Respiratory viruses usually go away in a week or two without treatment. Ask your healthcare professional about the best way to feel better while your body fights off the virus.

The Major Risks of Taking Antibiotics

Why does taking antibiotics unnecessarily or inappropriately matter? Any time antibiotics are used, they can cause side effects and lead to antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent threats to our public health. Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, leading to at least 23,000 deaths.

Antibiotic resistance does not mean the body is becoming resistant to antibiotics; it means that bacteria develop the ability to defeat the antibiotics designed to kill them. When bacteria become resistant, antibiotics can’t kill them and the bacteria multiply. Some resistant bacteria can be harder to treat and can spread to other people.

How You Can Be Antibiotics Aware

Everyone can help improve antibiotic prescribing and use.

If you need antibiotics, take them exactly as prescribed. Be sure to talk with your doctor if you have any questions about your antibiotics, or if you develop any side effects, especially diarrhea, since that could be a C. difficile (C. diff) infection.

How frequently have your kids been prescribed antibiotics? Do you find you or your kids are prescribed antibiotics less often now than when you were prescribed them as a child? For more health tips for your family, be sure to follow my Health and Safety for Kids board on Pinterest.

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Antibiotics save lives. They are critical for treating people with serious infections, such as pneumonia or sepsis, the body’s extreme response to an infection. Improving the way we take antibiotics helps keep us healthy now, helps fight antibiotic resistance, and ensures that life-saving antibiotics will be available for future generations.

To learn more about antibiotic prescribing and use, visit www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use.

To learn more about sepsis, a life-threatening condition that is treated with antibiotics, visit www.cdc.gov/sepsis.

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