What You Need To Know About Antibiotics

What You Need To Know About Antibiotics

Publish Date March 16, 2022 5 Minute Read
Author By Cathleen McKnight, DNP, APRN

“I have a sinus headache that has been constant for three days. The same thing happened about two months ago, went to my doctor and Z-pak helped. I have 24 hours to get my three kids settled before I fly out for a 48-hour work trip for a big case. Antibiotic, please?”

“I’m a stay at home mom taking care of three boys and I’ve been coughing my head off for four nights. I don’t have time to be sick. Antibiotic, please?”

“I have sinus pressure that is nagging 24/7. I work full-time, I’m traveling out of town for work tomorrow and I’m a mother of two little girls. I’m already dragging, exhausted and cannot afford to be sick. Yesterday (day five), my sinus gunk started moving to my chest and now I have a wicked cough waking me up. Antibiotic, please?”

These three busy-bee moms are undoubtedly sick. Presenting to their trusted healthcare practitioner, each of them are suffering from a virus that’s waging a knock-down, drag-out war on their bodies, causing uncomfortable congestion, coughing and a heavy current to fight against as they wade through the day. Conditions caused by viruses include influenza, bronchitis, most sinus infections, sore throats and other upper respiratory infections.

The Unfortunate Truth About Viruses

Antibiotics do not treat viruses. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. That’s right: that sinus pressure you’ve had for 6 days, or that nuisance cough that started last week, probably doesn’t require antibiotics for treatment. In fact, studies show that 29% of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary.

In lieu of antibiotics, you’ll have more luck finding relief with over-the-counter medications to curb your sinus pressure, sore throat and cough. Not sure what to get or unsure of medication interactions? Ask your pharmacist or practitioner for guidance.

“Just in Case” Antibiotics

A prescription for an antibiotic “just in case” is misguided and generates unnecessary risk to the individual taking the medication. This can especially pose a threat if a patient encounters challenges with antimicrobial, or “super bug” bacteria. Catching an antibiotic-resistant infection can lead to an array of complications including sepsis, a life-threatening response to an infection, and even death.

More Harm Than Good

What is the harm in taking an antibiotic? Studies show that antibiotics are often doing more harm than good. Adverse drug reactions from antibiotic exposure occur in 1 out of every 5 patients and are implicated in 19.3% of all emergency department visits. In addition, about 70,000 pediatric emergency department visits each year are due to negative effects of antibiotics.3

The gut microbiome consists of trillions of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract and aid in healthy processing of vitamins and minerals. Antibiotics are unable to distinguish good bacteria from bad bacteria. As a result, the microorganisms that contribute to optimal gut health are also affected, weakening immune response. Studies show that while most of the good gut bacteria are replenished to normal amounts after 4 weeks, some of the bacteria remained at suboptimal levels for 6 months or longer.2 The long-term effects of healthy microbiome disruption are not entirely known, but it’s another reason to think twice about unnecessary antibiotics.

Yikes! Next time you’re sick, have a candid discussion with your healthcare practitioner about the need for antibiotic use. Are there better, safer options for you? Be an advocate for yourself and limit your risk of landing in the emergency department due to untowardly side effects. Antibiotics should only be taken for indicated conditions and when the benefits outweigh the risks.

Super Bugs

Over the past few decades, the healthcare field has been studying and identifying the problems of super bugs. The term “super bug” is used to refer to bacteria that has become resistant to the antibiotic(s) that are usually used to treat it. The bacteria changes in a way that reduces the effectiveness of antibiotics and poses one of the most pressing public health threats. This is called antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic use is the single most important contributing factor to antibiotic resistance, and up to one-third to one-half of antibiotic use in humans is either unnecessary or inappropriate. Each year in the United States, 47 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are written in doctors’ offices, emergency rooms and hospital-based clinics. This makes improving antibiotic prescriptions a national priority.1

By limiting antibiotic use to infections, in which it’s deemed necessary, you can help protect yourself and others from generating super bugs.

Appropriate Antibiotic Use

Don’t boycott antibiotic use altogether! Antibiotics can be vital to killing bad bacteria and safely returning an individual to health.

U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week

U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week (USAAW) is an annual observance to raise awareness of the threat of antibiotic resistance and emphasize the importance of appropriate antibiotic use.

Interested in learning more? Additional education resources are available through the CDC.

Explore more healthy living advice from our team of experts.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.


1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016). 1 in 3 antibiotics prescriptions unnecessary. Retrieved on November 13, 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0503-unnecessary-prescriptions.html

2Dethlefsen, L, et al (2008). The Pervasive effects of an antibiotic on human gut microbiota, as revealed by depp 16S rRNA Sequencing. PLoS Biol. 2008 Nov; 6(11): e280. November 2018, 10.1371/journal.pbio.0060280

3Lovegrove MC, et al (2018). US emergency department visits for adverse drug events from antibiotics in children, 2011-2015. Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, November 2019 8(5):384-3918, https://doi.org/10.1093/jpids/piy066