Antibiotics Aren’t Always the Answer

Do you have a cold that just won’t quit or a bad case of pink eye? Of course, you want relief as soon as possible. But what you think might help may not help at all. Worse, it could put you at risk for other problems.

Antibiotics truly are wonder drugs. But that doesn’t mean that they work for everything. Antibiotics are only helpful if you have an infection caused by bacteria. Many of the common health problems that we have, like colds, sinus infections and pink eye, are caused by viruses. Antibiotics just don’t work against viruses. While taking an antibiotic may make you feel like you’re doing something to get better, it’s not helping at all.

In fact, besides wasting your money, taking antibiotics may make you feel worse. Like every other drug, antibiotics can have bad side effects, including severe diarrhea and serious allergic reactions.

Overuse of antibiotics

Taking an antibiotic when you don’t need it has led to a serious problem: drug-resistant bacteria. About 23,000 children and adults in the U.S. die each year from drug-resistant infections. The main cause of this problem is overuse of antibiotics. Because of excessive exposure to antibiotics, some bacteria have changed enough that antibiotics no longer work against them.

Choosing Wisely has a helpful overview of when antibiotics are appropriate for children and when they are not. You can also use the Community Checkup to see how providers and health plans in Washington score in avoiding antibiotic use for different conditions. Talk to your provider about when an antibiotic is right for you. It may not be as often as you think.