With cold and flu season looming, trips to the pharmacy can become more frequent for the average household. While there are a variety of over-the-counter medications for symptom relief, there is also one option that is sometimes prescribed unnecessarily for colds or the flu: antibiotics.
What are antibiotics used for?
Antibiotics are prescribed by a doctor, or in some cases a pharmacist, when bacteria are the cause of an infection. Antibiotics will kill the offending bacteria and help the body’s immune system fight it. Their quick effectiveness is a reason people may view them as the answer to feeling better quickly. The problem with this is that most illnesses we see in the fall and winter (eg, common cold, Covid, Influenza, and RSV) are caused by viruses (not bacteria). Antibiotics are not an effective treatment for viruses and will have no impact on the length or severity of the common cold or flu. Use of antibiotics in cases where there is no bacterial infection are problematic for the future use of antibiotics as they can lead to antibiotic resistance.
When the cause of an illness is viral, there are no “bad” bacteria to target and the antibiotics wind up killing off “good” bacteria. It can also allow smaller numbers of resistant bacteria a chance to multiply and take over or pass on their resistant properties to other bacteria. This leads to the creation of “superbugs”, the ones that are better equipped to survive a course of antibiotics. If they take over, there is less chance that antibiotics will be effective in treating infection in the future. According to a 2019 study, approximately 25% of antibiotics prescribed in Canada are unnecessary.
That’s a lot of opportunity for superbug-spawning conditions.
Avoiding unnecessary antibiotic use
Healthcare providers are encouraged to follow certain criteria when prescribing antibiotics for different populations. Canada’s Choosing Wisely initiative provides guidance to physicians in an attempt to cut down on unnecessary prescriptions. What can you do to cut down on taking
- Decrease your chances of getting sick: The occasional illness is inevitable but washing your hands properly and looking after your overall health are typically some of your best defenses.
- Use over-the-counter medications or at home remedies to manage symptoms: Your sore throat may just be the result of the common cold. Consult your healthcare professional to ensure it is nothing more, then stock up on hot tea and pain relief at your pharmacy.
- Ask questions: Avoid requesting antibiotics and have a conversation with your healthcare provider to determine if they are the best course of action. Ask questions to determine the potential cause of your illness and the pros and cons of treating it with antibiotics. According to Health Canada, adults aged 60 and older are prescribed antibiotics 1.5 times more often than other groups, so seniors should be especially diligent when filling prescription antibiotics.
At Pace Pharmacy we’re committed to helping you stay healthy and ensure medications remain effective for years to come. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have questions about your prescription antibiotics.