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November 16, 2012 06:16 PM

Do You Really Need An Antibiotic?

Many people go to the doctor for a cold and expect to be prescribed an antibiotic. But did you know that antibiotics can't help cure viral infections like a cold or the flu? In fact, they could do more harm than good.

Tyler Koedam enjoys spending time with his two little girls, three-year-old Kenzie and three-month old Katie.

But as a dad, he knows it's not always fun and games. Several months ago, he took Kenzie to the doctor for another ear infection.

"The main reason we brought her in was to check on whether or not we wanted to get the tube placed again to keep the pain away," Koedam said.

Koedam was surprised when the doctor offered a prescription for an antibiotic. As a fourth year medical student, he knew antibiotics can't help nearly 80 percent of ear infections.

But the Koedam's situation is actually fairly common. In fact, 60 percent of antibiotic prescriptions are not necessary.

"A common joke among doctors is if you don't take an antibiotic, you'll be better in seven days. If I do give you an antibiotic, you'll be better in a week," Sanford Dr. Nancy Carroll said.

Carroll says she has patients ask for antibiotics when they're not needed on a daily basis. That overuse of antibiotics can actually cause some bacteria to become resistant to the drug.

"Whenever you take antibiotics, you are killing some of the friendly bacteria in our system that are helping maintain our equilibrium," Carroll said.

Carroll says more people like Koedam are becoming aware about the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant infections, but still there's a lot of work to be done.

"Antibiotics were one of the greatest medical advancements in history, and they're slowly becoming less and less useful because of resistance. That's a pretty important thing to have," Koedam said.

Carroll says when patients bring their children in for an ear infection, she will often write them a prescription for an antibiotic, but she asks them to wait two or three days to see if they infection gets better without an antibiotic. 80 percent of the time it will.

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