Antibiotics: Why they are not always the answer
When a cold, flu or other illness is wearing you down and you want to get better fast, is an antibiotic the answer? Generally not, say most medical experts. In fact, an antibiotic could do more harm than good. Antibiotic resistance is a growing public health threat in the United States and across the globe, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
When you visit a MultiCare Urgent Care, you may not be given an antibiotic – and there are several reasons why.
We talked to Shane Brooks, DO, a Clinical Care Director for MultiCare Urgent Cares, about what’s important to know about antibiotics and how you can help us help you feel better.
Q: What does the CDC mean when they say antibiotic resistance is a public health threat?
Dr. Brooks: Basically, the CDC is saying when germs defeat the antibiotic that was designed to treat them, it’s called antibiotic resistance. More and more people are facing this issue. Last year, in fact, more than 20,000 people died because the antibiotic(s) they were given for their illness couldn’t beat the germ they were designed to kill.
Q: What does antibiotic resistance mean for patients who visit our urgent cares?
Dr. Brooks: It doesn’t mean you won’t get an antibiotic if you need it. Our providers are trained to review your clinical symptoms, test results, and the information you share with them to make the best clinical judgment. Overall, our aim is to follow the CDC’s guidelines – and only prescribe an antibiotic for conditions that require it:
- Pneumonia and urinary tract infection (UTI) are both examples of illnesses that usually require antibiotics.
For other conditions, those we know are likely viral, we don’t prescribe an antibiotic. Our goal is to educate you about why an antibiotic isn’t ideal for your illness. This includes:
- Sore throat (unless it's strep throat)
- Cold, runny nose
There are some illnesses that fall into a gray area, including sinus infections and ear infections. In these cases, our preference is to work with you to relieve pain and to consider whether other treatments such as flushing the sinuses, home remedies and over-the-counter medications will help clear the infection, without prescribing an antibiotic. Sometimes we also prescribe a steroid for a bad cough or for a sinus infection, for instance, because decreasing inflammation can be very beneficial. This works well for those patients and relieves a lot of the unpleasant symptoms.
Q: How can patients help you and other providers offer the best care and the best advice to them?
Dr. Brooks: Be an advocate for your own health. Share your complete story. Tell us what’s the most troubling or bothersome part of your illness. Ask questions of your provider. Trust me, every one of our providers wants to help you or your child feel better. That’s why I got into medicine. We also don’t want to prescribe an antibiotic if we really don’t believe it’s medically necessary.
Q: Sometimes a cough or bronchitis lags and lasts for 2-3 weeks. Is an antibiotic effective in these cases?
Dr. Brooks: No, it’s generally not. I think that’s the toughest part of the conversation I have with patients. Colds and bronchial conditions can hang on – for weeks sometimes, which can be very annoying. It’s hard to be patient when we don’t feel well. But it’s also a good idea, whenever possible, to let our bodies do what they’re supposed to do and fight off the cold or bronchial condition naturally.
Q: Any final advice, Dr. Brooks, as we head into cold and flu season?
Dr. Brooks: Get your flu shot. Wash your hands. Avoid people who may be sick or have a cold. If you have a bad cold or the flu, stay home from work or school.
And, if you come to one of our urgent cares and we see you for a condition that’s viral (and won’t benefit from an antibiotic), know we’ll work with you (or your child) to help relieve symptoms and make you more comfortable.