You know the routine. You feel ill and you make an appointment to see your doctor. He gives you a prescription for antibiotics. You feel better.
The problem is that prescription may not being doing you any good. And what’s worse, it could be harmful.
According to recent research, between one-third and one-half of all antibiotic prescriptions are useless. Because the prescriptions were written for illnesses that don’t even respond to antibiotics.
Antibiotics are only effective against infections caused by bacteria, not those caused by viruses. Which means colds, flus, some sore throats and even certain sinus infections just don’t respond to antibiotics.
And if you’ve ever taken an antibiotic for a virus and felt better, it’s simply because the infection had run its course.
You’re probably thinking, “No harm, no foul,” right? After all, you felt better.
Wrong. Taking antibiotics when you don’t really need them is harmful. Keep reading to find out why.
Antibiotic resistance puts you in harm’s way
Our bodies are home to all kinds of bacteria, even when we’re not sick.
In fact, many of those bacteria are good bugs that help keep us healthy such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium. The good bacteria help fight against the bad bugs, such as Salmonella and E. coli, which threaten to make us sick.
When you do get sick and take an antibiotic the drug has no way of distinguishing between the good and bad bacteria. It randomly kills off both, scrubbing your system of most of the bugs. This can leave your immune system compromised.
But a handful of hearty bad bacteria always manage to survive, building a resistance to the drug. Those tough guys then multiply, passing on their resistance to their offspring. And as a result, the next time you take the antibiotic, even more of the bad bugs survive.
If you only take an antibiotic a few times, the drug can continue to be effective enough for you to overcome the infections. But, over time, antibiotic overuse can allow the growing number of resistant bugs to take over, making the antibiotic no longer work.
Antibiotic resistance is a community problem
And it’s not just your own antibiotic use, that’s a threat. Resistant bugs can spread from one person to another. Plus antibiotic overuse in farm animals creates even more bugs that antibiotics can no longer fight.
The result are the superbugs you’ve probably heard something about. These nearly unstoppable bad bacteria have become resistant to most, or all, of the common antibiotics.
Which means that a common bacterial infection that in the past would simply have made you sick, may now be life threatening. Bugs such as MRSA, pneumonia and E. coli can now be killers.
In other words, fighting antibiotic resistance is a community problem.
We all need to become responsible antibiotic users. And encourage our family and friends to be also. Consider making the switch to organically-raised, antibiotic-free meats. And support legislation to curb antibiotic overuse on farms.
Protect yourself against antibiotic overuse
The good news is that there are steps you can take to help protect yourself against antibiotic resistance.
1. Don’t insist on a prescription:
If your doctor says you don’t need an antibiotic, listen to him.
More doctors are becoming aware of the danger of antibiotic overuse. But studies show that far too many are still writing prescriptions when they shouldn’t. And bullying your doctor into writing one can backfire on you.
Besides, many infections—regardless of whether they’re viral or bacterial—will clear up on their own. If you’re not severely ill, your doctor may opt for “watchful waiting.” Which means you hold off on taking an antibiotic, and allow the illness to run its course.
Meanwhile you can still treat your symptoms, such as head or body aches, with natural and over-the-counter remedies.
2. Request lab work:
Does it seem like your illness is bacterial and not getting better on its own? Before taking an antibiotic, request lab work. Typically, this will be a urine or blood test.
Lab work can confirm the bug you’re nursing is bacterial. And since certain microorganisms are more sensitive to certain drugs, it can help your doctor choose the right antibiotic to treat your infection.
3. Consider natural antibiotics:
If your doctor has chosen “watchful waiting,” ask him about trying natural antibiotics.
Herbal antibiotics could help you overcome a minor infection without risking antibiotic resistance. Honey, garlic, thyme and oregano are just a few of the natural antibiotics provided by Mother Nature.
To learn more read, “Fight off infections with 6 effective “herbal antibiotics.”
4. Follow your doctor’s instructions:
The current standard advice when taking antibiotics is that you should always finish the entire course. It’s tempting to stop taking them as soon as you feel better. But many experts believe this can contribute to antibiotic resistance too.
Some experts are now questioning this standard advice. They say there’s little evidence that stopping an antibiotic will make bugs more resistant.
But don’t let the controversy confuse you. Simply follow to your doctor’s instructions. And should you start to feel better contact him to ask whether you can safely stop taking the drug.
5. Take a probiotic:
Remember that whenever you take an antibiotic it’s wiping out your good bacteria, right along with the bad ones. This can compromise your immune system, and leave you more vulnerable to other illnesses.
If you’re not currently taking a probiotic, you should consider taking one while you’re on the antibiotic, and for several weeks after. But be sure you’re taking it the right way.
Take your probiotic at least two hours before, or after, taking your antibiotic. This will give the antibiotic time to do its job, without wiping out all your beneficial bugs.