Antibiotics are a wonderful classification of drugs that have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, and improved the lives of countless more. However, do you know when antibiotics are helpful and when they aren’t?
Antibiotics target and kill bacteria, so for bacteria-borne illnesses and bacterial infections, antibiotics are great. The problem is that the majority of illnesses and symptoms most people seek antibiotics for are caused by viruses. Antibiotics do nothing to viruses.
Viruses are really interesting in that they are neither living nor dead. They replicate themselves, and the immune system can overcome them by denaturing or disassembling them, but they’re not really living organisms like bacteria. Some viruses may respond to antiviral drugs, but not antibacterial, or antibiotic drugs.
So how can we figure out if antibiotics will help or not?
- Common colds and flus are all viral, and therefore will not improve or be remedied by the use of antibiotics. Most viruses run their course in seven to ten days, and over-the-counter remedies can help alleviate symptoms. If symptoms persist longer than that, see your doctor to discuss further treatment options.
- A severe sore throat warrants a trip to the doctor for a bacterial culture to check for strep throat. If strep is present, then antibiotics are the appropriate course of treatment. But if it’s not strep, it’s most likely a viral problem.
- The majority of upper respiratory infections, including bronchitis, are viral in nature, and yet this type of illness most frequently receives a prescription for an antibiotic. Antibiotics won’t treat viral bronchitis, nor will they resolve inflammation in the lung tissues.
- While sinus infections can be bacterial, viral, fungal, the majority are due to viruses. If symptoms are severe or prolonged, we may prescribe an antibiotic.
- Ear infections can be either bacterial or viral, and the only way to know for sure is to test eardrum fluid. Ear infections definitely warrant medical attention, so err on the side of caution as untreated ear infections can lead to hearing complications.
- Pneumonia is another serious condition that should always be evaluated by one of our doctors. Like many other urgent care illnesses, it can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi, and again antibiotics will only be effective if the source is bacterial.
During a sick visit, Dr. Kendel Kidwell uses a combination of your visible symptoms and your verbal description of the events that led to your illness to determine whether you need antibiotics. For cases that require a throat swab or other lab work to test for bacterial infections, we will get your results quickly and prescribe an antibiotic only if you have a bacterial infection. Need urgent care in Fairless Hills so you can start feeling better and get back to work or activities? Walk right in or check in online.