You pop vitamin C tablets and chug orange juice when you feel a cold coming onÃ¢â‚¬”so whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the big deal if your doctor prescribes antibiotics to stop a sniffle, cough, or sneeze from getting worse? Unfortunately, it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t work that way. In fact, most of the preventative antibiotics prescribed for colds or viruses arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t necessaryÃ¢â‚¬”and therefore arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t beneficial to people who take them, according to an observational study recently published in the journal Annals of Family Medicine.
In the study, researchers reviewed the medical records of 814,283 patients who suffered from a cold, laryngitis, bronchitis, or another virus (the medical term to describe these: acute nonspecific respiratory infections, aka ARIs). Even though antibiotics are designed to treat bacterial infections and have no effect on ARIs, 65 percent of the patients in the study were prescribed antibiotics to protect the patient in the event of a misdiagnosis and/or to prevent the virus from turning into something more serious, like pneumonia.
Hardly any of the pill-poppers suffered side effects from the antibiotics, and they were slightly less likely to develop pneumonia. However, only one case of pneumonia was prevented for every 12,255 patients who took antibiotics. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a whole lot of unnecessary prescriptions that experts say could have scary long-term consequences.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The more antibiotics people take, the faster the bacteria in and around us develop resistance,Ã¢â‚¬Â says study co-author Sharon Meropol, MD, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Translation: When you get sick in the future, there may not be any antibiotics available that work.
That doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mean you should swear off antibiotics altogether; the meds can reduce the time it takes to recover from a serious bacterial infection, says Robert Klein, MD, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at St. LukeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and Roosevelt Hospitals.
If your doctor recommends antibiotics, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s generally a good idea to ask if whyÃ¢â‚¬”and if theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re really necessary, says Klein. If they are, make sure to follow your doctorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s instructions for taking the antibiotics to the letter to maximize effectiveness. Your healthÃ¢â‚¬”both current and futureÃ¢â‚¬”could depend on it.