Deadly Risks of Antibiotic Overuse Warrant Widespread Education
Fact or fiction: Green mucus implies a bacterial infection. If a cold lasts a week, you should consult a physician. Antibiotics might not help you get better, but they can't hurt.
Wrong, on all accounts. Every year, your family probably faces its share of colds, sore throats and viruses. When you go to the doctor for these illnesses, do you automatically expect a prescription for antibiotics?
Many people do. And they're surprised, maybe even angry, if they leave the doctor's office empty-handed. But your doctor could be doing you and your family a favor by not reaching for the prescription pad.
"Taking antibiotics for colds and other viral illnesses not only won't work, but also has a dangerous side effect: Over time, this practice helps create bacteria that have become more of a challenge to kill," said Shari Simon, DO, a family practitioner on staff at Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County. Frequent and inappropriate use of antibiotics leads to bacterial resistance. These resistant bacteria require higher doses of medicine or stronger antibiotics to treat. More and more bacteria are becoming resistant to some of the most powerful antibiotics available.
Antibiotic resistance is a widespread problem, and one that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls "one of the world's most pressing public health problems."
Not only is antibiotic overuse having medical implications, it is also having a serious impact on the nation's healthcare expenditures. According to a recent article in Clinical Infectious Diseases, at a time when our country is debating how to deliver better, more affordable care, enormous cost savings could be realized for both the healthcare system and for individuals and their families simply by changing our behaviors and practicing more prudent usage of antibiotics. The study found that antibiotic-resistant infections cost the U.S. healthcare system in excess of $20 billion annually. In addition, these avoidable infections result in more than $35 billion in societal costs and more than 8 million days spent in the hospital.
The solution begins with education and trusting your healthcare provider's judgment. "When it comes down to prescribing an antibiotic or another medicine, you really should defer to your doctor's judgment and not pressure them into giving you medicine that might not be warranted," said Dr. Simon. "Doctors understand that you want to get better, but in most cases routine viral illnesses will clear up on their own without much more than rest, some extra fluids and time."At-Home Remedies for the Common Cold
- Wash your hands frequently to avoid spreading germs.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink ample water, juice or other non-caffeinated fluids, which can help loosen mucus.
- Eat chicken soup.
- If your throat is painful, gargle with warm salt water.
- Use a clean, cool-mist humidifier to help clear a clogged nose.
- Apply petroleum jelly to a tender nose.
- Soothe a headache or fever with aspirin or acetaminophen. But never give aspirin to a child or teenager. It could cause a serious illness called Reye's syndrome.
- Try over-the-counter cold remedies for specific symptoms--for instance, a cough suppressant to stifle coughs.