What Do You Mean I Don’t Need an Antibiotic?!?

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links.  This means a receive a commission off any sale resulting from a link in this post. Also I am a Nurse Practitioner, but I am not your Nurse Practitioner. This post is for educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or to offer treatment advice. If you have concerns about your health, seek help from your healthcare provider.

You have been feeling sick for days! Your nose is so congested that you can barely breath and talk at the same time.  Your throat feels like someone took sandpaper to it, you cough until you pee your pants, you are feverish yet no amount of blankets will keep you warm.  You just want to feel better! There is nothing more disappointing than going to the doctor and being told “its just a virus, you don’t need antibiotics”.  WHAT DO YOU MEAN I DON’T NEED ANTIBIOTICS!?! I’M SICK!

I hear ya folks. I’ve been there, done that myself as a patient.  There really is a reason behind healthcare providers reserving antibiotics.  Legitimate, real life, VERY important reasons. The first reason is, if you have a viral infection, an antibiotic is not going to work.  Antibiotics treat bacterial infections only.  They will do nothing for your viral infection and put you at risk for side effects like stomach upset and allergic reactions, among others.

Another very BIG, very IMPORTANT reason that we don’t prescribe antibiotics unless they are necessary is antibiotic resistance.  This is when bacteria evolves until it no longer responds to antibiotics. Every time we take antibiotics we risk this occurring.  The bacteria may change in structure in some very small way that prevents the antibiotic from killing it or stopping its replication. One way to think about this is a door, lock, and key.  The bacteria is the door and the antibiotic is the key.  If the door changes its lock, the key will no longer fit.  Just like the key no longer working, if a bacteria changes in some small way, the antibiotic will no longer work.

There are bacterial infections that have become so resistant that we have to use two, or even three antibiotics to treat it when it used to only take one.  Another problem related directly to this is that resistance is developing much faster than new antibiotics are hitting the market. This is kind of scary folks! It takes all of us to help prevent further resistance.

So what do we do when we have a viral infection and there is no fast treatment? We treat symptomatically.  This means we do what we can to make you feel better without giving you the actual cure.  Examples of symptomatic treatments are tylenol, ibuprofen, cough syrups, cough drops, throat sprays, decongestants, nasal saline sprays, among many other. These medications won’t cure you, but they can make you feel much better.  We all want a fast recovery but unfortunately most viruses must run their course.

If you are unsure whether you have a viral or a bacterial infection, seek evaluation by your healthcare provider.

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