The Problem With Antibiotics

Red capsules

By Sarah Won, MD

We’ve all woken up with a sore throat that progresses to a runny nose by the next day. By the third day, we have a hacking cough, a pounding headache from the sinus congestion, and even fevers with chills. We drag ourselves out of bed and go to the doctor, hoping that a pill or antibiotic can get us feeling better.

The majority of the time, however, we have one of 20 different respiratory viruses that cause the cold or flu-like symptoms. And antibiotics cannot kill viruses. So if it’s viral, the antibiotic cannot get you better.

What do antibiotics kill, then? Antibiotics, like amoxicillin or the Z-pack (azithromycin), kill bacteria. But antibiotics kill indiscriminately. Did you know our bodies are made up of 100 trillion bacteria? 99.99% of these bacteria do not cause disease — as long as a careful balance is maintained, they work the way they are supposed to work, and stay in the places they are supposed to stay.

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Why Antibiotics Aren’t Always the Answer

By Max Pitlosh, MD

Unfortunately, in America we have gotten in the habit of giving antibiotics for ear infections, and for the vast majority of patients, they expect antibiotics to be prescribed.

There has been evidence for over a decade in Europe and Canada that supports pain relief over antibiotics for children with ear infections, and that has been their practice. There is a difference between what society and tradition say we should do — which is to prescribe the antibiotics — versus what the latest scientific information tells us to do: ease the symptoms.

For sinus infections, the evidence is very similar to ear infections. The treatments of choice for a sinus infection are decongestants, pain relievers and using a humidifier along with a nasal rinse. Antibiotics may be used if the infection doesn’t respond. But it can be difficult to determine whether a sinus or ear infection is due to a virus that won’t respond to antibiotics or a bacterial infection that might. Continue reading