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Safe Antibiotic Usage

December 05, 2018


Antibiotics save lives. Though some plants historically were used to treat infections, it wasn’t until penicillin was successful in the early part of the 20th Century that thousands of lives could be saved from infections.  By the end of World War II, it was called “the wonder drug” for its use in the field and in hospitals to treat troops. Its discovery led to a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945.

Antibiotics have come a long way since then, but their job is still the same – to kill bacteria that causes serious infections. Antibiotics are critical tools for treating pneumonia and for life-threatening conditions including sepsis, the body’s extreme response to an infection.

However, antibiotics are not always needed. An antibiotic will not make you feel better if you have a virus. Respiratory viruses usually go away in a week or two without treatment. Antibiotics do not work for viruses such as colds and flus. They don’t work on runny noses, sneezing or coughs, and they may not even help or be needed for bronchitis, many sinus infections and some ear infections.

Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them can cause problems later. It can increase the risk of a resistant infection in your body, and when people do this, it is leads to new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can quickly spread through a community and be difficult to cure.

This is happening now in the U.S. and throughout the world. Common antibiotics are becoming ineffective at killing some bacteria. Misuse jeopardizes the usefulness of essential and commonplace drugs. When antibiotics fail to work, the illnesses are longer-lasting. They can extend hospital stays and care. Some resistant infections can also cause death.

Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Out of those, 23,000 die as a result.

To fight resistant bacteria, more complex, and often more expensive, antibiotics must be found to get the same job done.

What will help? “Only take antibiotics for bacterial infections, such as strep throat or bacterial sinus infections,” said Amanda Eamigh, PharmD, BCPS, Clinical Pharmacy Manager at Penn Highlands DuBois. “Let a healthcare provider decide if an antibiotic is necessary and believe him or her.  If an antibiotic is not prescribed for an illness, ask what else can be done rather than insist on an antibiotic drug.”

“If you are given an antibiotic, follow the instructions. Take all the doses, even if you start feeling better,” Alan Cornman, RPh, Pharmacy Coordinator at Penn Highlands Brookville, said. Bacteria can regenerate and be immune to the antibiotics that you first started to use. If the illness comes back, it may be resistant to the same type of treatment.

“Don’t share or use leftover antibiotics.  Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to multiply,” Michelle Bennett, PharmD, BCPS, Director of Pharmacy at Penn Highlands Clearfield, said. 

If you don’t have an infection, but you do have a virus, follow this advice:

For upper respiratory infections, such as sore throats, ear infections, sinus infections, colds and bronchitis, get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, use a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer and avoid smoking, secondhand smoke, and other pollutants. Use acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen to relieve pain or fever and saline nasal spray or drops to clear your nose and sinuses.

And old-fashioned remedies do work. 

Soothe a sore throat with ice chips, sore throat spray, popsicles or lozenges. Gargle with salt water and drink warm beverages.

For ear pain, put a warm, moist cloth over the ear that hurts and be sure to keep your ears covered if you go outdoors.

For a runny nose, use a decongestant or saline nasal spray to help relieve nasal symptoms.

For sinus pain and pressure, put a warm compress over the nose and forehead to help relieve sinus pressure, use a decongestant or saline nasal spray and breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water or shower.

Help a cough with steam from a bowl of hot water or shower and non-medicated lozenges. Honey is OK for those older than a year only.

“Over-the-counter pain relievers, decongestants and saline nasal sprays may help relieve some symptoms, but they do not shorten the length of time a person is sick,” Chris Barackman, RPh, Director of Pharmacy at Penn Highlands Elk, said. Stay home until you are fever-free and symptom-free for 24 hours without medication. Remember to always use products as directed. Not all products are recommended for children of certain ages.

“Talk with your local pharmacist if you have questions,” Eamigh said. “A pharmacist can help determine which over the counter medications may be best to relieve your symptoms.”