ANTIBIOTICS: The good, the bad and the unnecessary

posted by Amber Dodds on Monday, June 19, 2017

It’s 2 am on Monday morning. As you slowly awaken, you notice a small figure standing beside your bed. “Mommy, I don’t feel good. My ear hurts,” your 5 year old mutters. You can hear the pain in her voice as you raise your hand to her forehead and see that she feels warm. As you climb out of bed to begin the assessment and treatment of your little patient, panic and fear begins to set in. You have meetings all day today, one of them you really can’t miss. “How am I going to handle this?” you think to yourself as the thermometer results read 100.1°F. You give her some Tylenol to help with the pain and bring the fever down then tuck her back into bed. As you sit there rubbing her back until she drifts asleep, you come up with a plan.  “I will call the doctor’s office first thing in the morning and have them call her in an antibiotic. She just had the same thing 3 months ago so they shouldn’t need to see her, they can just call something in. If she gets a dose of medicine and the fever stays down, she could go to school after lunch and I could make my one o’clock meeting.”

Any illness in the family introduces multiple hardships from missed time at school or work to fear of worsening illness and possible hospitalization.  We want a quick solution to not only get better but to also get on with our routine. For some illnesses, antibiotics are the only option to do just that. But, antibiotics do NOT treat ALL illnesses and are often-times unnecessary.

If you have ever taken an antibiotic and begun to feel better almost immediately, you most certainly want to repeat that experience every time you fall ill. But oftentimes your illness is caused by a virus and will not respond to antibiotics.

1 out of 3 antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary

Antibiotics can have troublesome side effects. While nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are common occurrences with antibiotics, there is also a potential for serious harm from other less common side effects such as allergic reactions. These can range from a mild rash that will resolve on its own to severe breathing difficulties requiring immediate medical attention. Antibiotics are responsible for 1 out of 5 emergency department visits related to adverse drug events in children under the age of 18. When you take an antibiotic for an infection that is from a virus, you run the risk of experiencing side effects AND the antibiotic is not actually helping you to get better. 

Unnecessary antibiotic use leads to antibiotic resistance. Bacteria want to survive. While some bacteria are killed by the antibiotic, others are able to develop ways to beat the antibiotic so it will no longer work to treat illnesses caused by that bacteria. Using too many antibiotics and using antibiotics unnecessarily are driving resistance, and the problem is growing. New antibiotic development has slowed and the potential to have infections with bacteria that are resistant to all currently available antibiotics has presented itself as a reality here in the United States and world-wide.

We, as patients, need to work closely with our healthcare providers to make sure prescriptions for antibiotics are necessary. Have an open discussion with your doctor on the best course of therapy. If your doctor feels your illness is viral, develop a plan to treat symptoms during your illness with the ability to quickly begin antibiotic therapy if your illness worsens of does not improve within a certain time period.

To learn more, visit the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website at: www.cdc.gov/getsmart/community/for-patients

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About The Author

Amber Dodds

Amber is a staff pharmacist at Spencer Hospital who also serves as the hospital's Antimicrobial Stewardship and Informatics Pharmacy Specialist. Amber received her Doctorate of Pharmacy from the University of Iowa.