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Thursday, 30 May 2019 13:24

Colds and Antibiotics Featured

Colds and Antibiotics: Rarely a Good Combination

One of the commonest reasons people visit the doctor over winter is for a respiratory illness with symptoms such as a sore throat, hoarseness, runny nose, sneezing, fever or a cough. Their reasons for seeking medical help are varied.

For many, particularly with children, it is for reassurance that their illness is no more serious than a virus and they should continue to just treat the symptoms. For others they, quite reasonably, need time off work or school and need a doctor’s certificate to allow this.

There are some that attend within a few days of acquiring their symptoms who have been led to believe that their illness can be resolved by the use of antibiotics. However, it is seldom the case and responsible medical practice warrants a discussion about this and usually a refusal to prescribe antibiotics.

Typical cold symptoms especially when grouped together are just that, a cold. They are caused by viruses that are not affected by antibiotics. The symptoms can last between 3 to 14 days and provided no new more unusual symptoms appear or the condition starts to worsen then the illness should be left to run the inevitable course of getting better.

Apart from being ineffective, the use of antibiotics for a cold involves unnecessary cost and also the risk of side effects such as a rash, diarrhoea, or thrush infections. The unnecessary use also encourages antibiotic resistance in the community with the development of multi-resistant bacteria or the so-called “super-bugs”. For these reasons it is imperative that both doctors and patients work in partnership to only use antibiotics responsibly.

So when might antibiotics be appropriate? Generally doctors would consider antibiotics in the setting of cold symptoms if:

  • The symptoms had been there for 2 weeks or more
  • The symptoms are more severe and seem to be worsening
  • There are problems with breathing
  • There are risk factors for developing secondary bacterial infections and little reserve to cope. Examples would be those whose immunity is poor, are on drugs that suppress their immunity, are frail or have illnesses such as emphysema, which puts them at risk of pneumonia.
  • There was good evidence of complications developing such ear or sinus infections that were not resolving or signs of pneumonia or bronchitis

We all will have many colds over our lives and each may be slightly different to the last but generally they are easy to pick.

So if you think it is just a cold you are probably right. If you are an otherwise well person the best course of action is to stay at home, rest and treat your symptoms with simple things such as paracetamol, fluids and your favourite home remedies like honey and lemon.

But, if you are not sure, are worried or things don’t seem quite right then see your doctor. That’s what we are here for. The best news you may get is that time rather than antibiotics is all you need to get better.