Make sure antibiotics work for (not against) you

Antibiotics are a powerful tool for fighting infection in adults and children, but thinking you or your child needs an antibiotic to knock out every infection isn’t only unwise, it can be bad for your health.

Antibiotics don’t work on viruses, for example. So, they’re ineffective when it comes to the flu, the common cold and most runny noses and coughs.

“Taking antibiotics when you have a virus can do more harm than good,” said Miranda Mitchell, MD, assistant professor of Internal Medicine at LSU Health Baton Rouge and medical director of antimicrobial stewardship at Our Lady of the Lake.

“You will still feel sick and the antibiotic could give you a skin rash, diarrhea, a yeast infection, or worse,” Dr. Mitchell said.

If you have a cough, sore throat or other illness, tell your doctor you only want to take an antibiotic if it’s necessary, Dr. Mitchell suggests. “Ask what you can do to feel better and get relief from symptoms without them.”

Adaora Uzodi, MD, who specializes in pediatric infectious diseases for Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health, said parents sometimes request antibiotics out of a desire to do something—anything—to help their child feel better. Sometimes, it’s not the best idea.

“We prescribe antibiotics where evidence has revealed clear, proven benefits that outweigh the risks or harmful side effects,” Dr. Uzodi said.

Understanding the most effective use of antibiotics will help you talk to your or your child’s doctor and to make better-informed care decisions.

The basics

Antibiotics work by killing or preventing bacteria from reproducing or spreading.

As evidence has grown about their risks and side effects, providers have learned to target their use. For example, they’re no longer routine for many cases of ear infections, sore throat or chest infections in children.

Antibiotics are not recommended when:

• Your infection is caused by a virus rather than bacteria.
• They’re not likely to quicken your healing.
• They’re likely to cause side effects.
• Taking them for trivial conditions might render them less effective if you need them for more serious illness.

Doctors do recommend antibiotics for:

• Minor conditions that may not clear up on their own, such as severe acne.
• Minor conditions that, untreated, could infect others, including impetigo or certain sexually transmitted diseases.
• Conditions for which evidence has shown antibiotics speed up recovery, such as a kidney infection.
• Conditions that, if untreated, might lead to more serious complications such as cellulitis or pneumonia.
• Preventing infection, such as for certain surgeries where an infection could cause severe illness or complications, such as eye surgery, joint replacement, heart surgery or surgery to remove the gallbladder or appendix.
• Patients with certain medical conditions who are vulnerable to infection, such as those undergoing chemotherapy or those with blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia.
• Patients who experience recurring illnesses such as cellulitis or urinary tract infections.
• For bites and certain wounds.

Are you at risk?

Some people are at greater risk for severe infections so they’re given antibiotics. They include:

• Adults 75 or older.
• Patients with heart failure.
• Diabetes patients who take insulin.
• Patients with a weakened immune system, including those receiving chemotherapy for cancer or patients with HIV.

To learn more or to find a primary care provider at Our Lady of the Lake Physician Group, call 225-765-5500, or click here.