Do You REALLY Need That Antibiotic?

It’s all too familiar. You wake up to an itchy throat, a pounding headache, and it feels as if someone has taken a ball-peen hammer to your entire body. You think to yourself, “This will not do. I have the presentation of my career in 24 hours,” or “My flight for Rome is this Friday!” You refuse to be sick, so you make a game plan: Go to the doctor and secure some antibiotics to kick this thing ASAP.

Not so fast.

Antibiotic overuse is when an antibiotic is used when it is not needed. You may be thinking to yourself, “Whatever. I’ll try anything. I’m desperate and already packed for Italy.” Antibiotics indeed are one of the greatest advances in modern medicine, but when they are not used properly, they cause resistant bacteria. That translates to bacteria that are harder to treat. As a matter of fact, due to the over-prescribing of antibiotics, some germs that were responsive to antibiotics are now more resistant. That is not awesome because it can lead to even more serious infections like pneumonia, ear/sinus infections, and meningitis.

Here are some Cliff’s Notes on germs. Two types of germs make us humans sick: bacteria and viruses. Both bacteria and viruses can indeed cause ailments that have similar symptoms, but they multiply and spread differently.

Bacteria are living organisms. (Don’t freak out. They’re normal, and we need them.) Bacteria is everywhere, but before you break out your disinfectant wipes, know that most bacteria are harmless. On the other hand, some bacteria are bad for us as they invade the body, multiply, and mess with our healthy bodily functions. Antibiotics were made for bacteria. They kill the living organisms by stopping their growth and reproduction. 

Viruses are NOT alive. They grow and reproduce once they have invaded other living cells. Sometimes our body can fight these viruses before illness takes root, but sometimes (like with colds) the virus just simply has to run its course. I know. I hate it when a doctor gives me that line. We can land a man on the moon, but we can’t cure the common cold.

So what if you overuse antibiotics? What are the real repercussions? Antibiotic overuse can change bacteria so much that the medication becomes powerless against it. This is called bacterial resistance or antibiotic resistance. Believe it or not, due to our “fix it with a pill” culture, some bacteria are already resistant to the most powerful antibiotics on the market.

Listen to your doctor and trust that he/she knows the best way to treat your illness. The last thing you want to do is overuse antibiotics for minor ailments, and then, when you really need the antibiotic, it doesn’t work. Trust your physician, stay educated, and medicate responsibly.

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