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Antibiotics: When Do You Take Them?

Updated on August 20, 2013
Drug resistant bacteria in your body
Drug resistant bacteria in your body

Doctors have been over prescribing broad spectrum antibiotics. These are drugs they kill a wide variety of good and bad bacteria in the body. Drugs like penicillin, Amoxicillin and Cephalexin are more narrow in their targets and can clear up common infections of the throat, ears etc. The most common broad spectrum prescribed is Ciprofloxacin and Leveofloxacin.

The problem doctors face is that by overuse when they are not needed can create additional problems and make the drugs less effective against the bacteria they target. They can wipe out the body's good bacteria that play a large role in the human body.

A study showed that doctors prescribe wide spectrum drugs over 60% of the time, taking the "gunshot" approach because they are unsure what the issue may be. Many times, a narrow spectrum should have been used to avoid killing off the good bacteria. The study was based upon 240,000 visits. Usually, the broad spectrum drugs were prescribed when the patient had rather vague respiratory or urinary tract infections. The study also showed that doctors were prescribing 25% of the time antibiotics for virus related symptoms. This is doctor ignorance because antibiotics do NOTHING to a virus, only bacterial symptoms. The number of the prescriptions are around 40 million per year. It was found these drugs were prescribed for coughs, common colds and bronchitis. The use of broad spectrum drugs is not warranted. Many doctors did not know how to diagnose when a problem was a virus or bacterial, so they just prescribe a broad spectrum antibiotic having no idea if it will work or not.

So, what are bacterial infections which would benefit from a narrow spectrum antibiotic?

  • Severe sinus infections lasting more than 10 days
  • Some ear infections
  • Strep throat with temperature of 101 F+
  • Certain wound and skin infections like staph
  • bladder infections

For the above, you should be prescribed Amoxicillin (ear, sinusitis), Cephalexin (skin infections), or Penicillin (strep throat). Broad spectrum antibiotics kill bad and good bacteria. These commonly are Azthromycin for pneumonia and pertussus, Augmentin for ear infections and bacterial sinusitis, and Ciprofloxacin for urinary tract infections, if other narrow spectrum drugs fail.

What are viral infections?

  • most bronchitis
  • colds
  • flu
  • coughs
  • some ear infections
  • most sore throats
  • stomach flu

For these symptoms, antibiotics will do very little.

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