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A word about antibiotics

Upper respiratory infections usually don’t require antibiotics

In fact, as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns, inappropriate antibiotic use might cause an unintended — and unwanted — consequence. Examples include the appearances of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (so-called superbugs), an anaphylactic allergic reaction, which is immediately life-threatening, or a C. Difficile enterocolitis infection, which is a serious (and, at times, life-threatening) gastrointestinal condition caused by antibiotic use. Simple untoward side-effects like gastric upset and diarrhea are less serious but quite common and unpleasant.

Time and again patients present to Village Health requesting antibiotics when they are suffering from a simple viral infection. Keep in mind, that unless there are signs in the history and physical of a bacterial (eg. staph or strep) infection, antibiotics will not reduce your discomfort or bring a resolution of your symptoms any quicker than if you rest, keep warm, drink fluids and wait for the infection to run its course.

Sometimes a patient is told antibiotics won’t help and protests “so, I just wasted my time and money coming down here?” The answer of course, is a resounding “NO”. In fact, he may have saved himself multiple FUTURE costly, time-consuming and unnecessary doctor visits for similar viral colds and other upper respiratory infections (like viral bronchitis — 90% of all bronchitis infections). Granted, it’s not always obvious whether one has a viral or bacterial infection and sometimes it’s not an infection at all but allergies — and that’s when a visit to Village Health or other doctor’s office is needed.

In general, a runny nose, scratchy throat, dry cough and nasal stuffiness lasting under a week and without fevers/chills or sinus pain/tenderness is likely to be viral and doesn’t require a medical evaluation. Note: even if the nasal discharge is yellow or green, it’s still likely viral, according to the experts. Bonus tip: coughs lasting less than two weeks without fevers, shortness of breath, vomiting, chest pain or bloody sputum are likely to be Viral Bronchitis, which normally runs it’s course in 1- 2 weeks (longer for smokers). If it drags on much beyond that, or is complicated by the above symptoms, then, by all means, come and see us!

In sum, many cold ands coughs don’t require medical attention in the first few days. Those that might, are usually prolonged beyond one week and feature more serious symptoms. The decision to prescribe or not prescribe an antibiotic is best left up to your doctor, who is basing it on whether you truly need it and whether you’ll benefit from it, or run the risk of suffering a worse outcome than your viral upper respiratory infection.

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