Reduce use of antibiotics

by Natasha Verma, MD
For The Review

Cold and flu season is on the way!

What happens when you have a severe sore throat, lots of congestion or an earache? You feel absolutely miserable so you decide to see your health care provider.

The likely diagnosis is a “viral infection.” Do you leave the medical clinic emptyhanded or do you request for a prescription for antibiotics?

Viruses, not bacteria, cause most upper respiratory infections. While antibiotics can effectively treat bacterial infections, they are not effective against viral infections such as the common cold, most sore throats and coughs.

Bacterial illnesses that may benefit from antibiotics include strep throat, tuberculosis and many types of pneumonia.

If your health care provider determines that your illness is caused by a virus, antibiotics should NOT be prescribed. Although most patients can understand this, antibiotics are still among the most frequently requested prescription.

Inappropriate use of antibiotics has led to the development of new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, so-called “super bugs,” which must be treated with different and stronger antibiotics. This has become a serious medical concern.

Tips to feel better (without antibiotics)

Remember, most colds (viral infections) usually run their course within five to 10 days – with or without treatment.

To feel better while you have a viral infection you should:

• drink plenty of fluids

• get plenty of rest

• use a humidifier and get steam

• try over-the-counter medications (OTC), based on your symptoms

Over-the-counter medications may include:

• Tylenol or ibuprofen to help with body aches/pain

• Cough suppressants or lozenges to help control coughing spells

• Decongestants to help relieve a stuffy nose or chest congestion

Ask your pharmacist or health care provider if you have questions about which product will work best for you.

Always read the labels — including the warnings — before taking any medication. If you have a pre-existing medical condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease, check with your health care provider about which OTC products are appropriate for you.

Contact your health care provider if:

• You have shortness of breath or wheezing

• You are unable to tolerate any oral intake, including fluids

• Your viral symptoms get worse or seem to last much longer than normal

• After you start feeling better, you develop new signs or worsening symptoms (such as nausea, vomiting, high fever, shaking, chills, chest pain) that could indicate a more serious problem.

Tips to avoid catching colds or the flu

In addition to receiving a flu vaccination, taking the following steps can help you avoid coming down with the flu or colds this coming winter:

• Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet

• Drink plenty of fluids and sleep at least 6-8 hours a night

• If you are really sick, stay home to avoid passing anything on to others

• Cough/sneeze into your arm rather than covering your mouth with your hands to avoid spread of germs

• Wash your hands frequently, especially after blowing your nose or coughing or sneezing. Using regular soap and water is sufficient; the important part is to lather well. You need to lather for 20 seconds, then rinse equally well.

• Discard used tissues immediately into the garbage can

Following these suggestions can be an effective way to help you stay well during the cold and flu season.

Dr. Natasha Verma, MD is a family medicine physician at Aurora Health Center in Sheboygan, 2414 Kohler Memorial Dr. Her office can be reached at 920-457-4461.

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