Sickness can really bring us down. And, when we’re desperate to get better, antibiotics can seem like a magical solution. But, do they actually help us recover faster? As it turns out, certain health conditions don’t require or benefit from antibiotics. But, before we list them out, let’s look at how antibiotics work.
How Do Antibiotics Work?
Antibiotics, or antimicrobial drugs, fight infections caused by bacteria. They do this either by killing the bacteria or making it difficult for it to grow and multiply. The term “antibiotic” comes from a natural compound that kills bacteria, especially certain types of mold or chemicals produced by living organisms.
It’s important to know when not to take antibiotics because overuse and misuse of the drugs causes antibiotic resistance. This resistance occurs when resistant bacteria, bacteria that antibiotics failed to kill, are left to grow and multiply.
Antibiotic resistance is dangerous because it could make easily treatable diseases difficult and expensive to treat. In some cases, antibiotic-resistant infections could cause a serious disability or even death. Not to mention, these resistant bacteria could threaten not just an individual but also a community.
It’s important to note that it is the bacteria and not the person that becomes resistant to antibiotics.1 Hence, it’s important to be smart about your antibiotic intake. Here are 4 disorders that you don’t need them for.
Diseases That Don’t Need Antibiotics
1. Respiratory Infections
Antibiotics can’t fight viruses, and in turn, viral infections.2 This rules out the need for them in conditions like
- Common cold
- Most sore throats
- Most coughs and bronchitis
- Most sinus infections
- Most ear infections
These infections need time to get better on their own and antibiotic treatment might cause harm to children and adults. The same holds true for any of these illnesses caused by an allergic reaction. Hence, before you decide to go on an antibiotic course, consult a health care professional.3
Eczema is a skin condition that causes patches of skin to become red, inflamed, itchy, cracked, and rough. There are different types of this condition, of which the most common is allergic contact eczema.
Causes of eczema include heat, certain types of food, and heat. At times, lesions caused due to the condition might get infected by virus.4
Management of eczema includes good personal hygiene, wearing soft clothes, and regular moisturizing. Often, people suspect a bacterial infection and self prescribe antibiotics to get rid of it. However, research shows that antibiotic creams and antibiotics do not have any effect on the skin condition. Instead, they might worsen the infection. Hence, consult a professional and avoid taking antibiotics in any form unless the infection is severe.5
3. Asymptiomatic Bacteriuria
Generally, urine is sterile and doesn’t have any bacteria in it. However, sometimes you might just have bacteria in your urine. This is common in
- Patients with bladder or kidney infection
- Older adults
- Pregnant women
- Sexually active women
- Women with long-term diabetes
- Patients with a urinary catheter
- Patients who’ve just had a surgical procedure in their urinary tract
These are signs of asymptiomatic bacteriuria, when there is no grave cause of bacteria in the urine. However, if you have burning during urination, increased urgency during urination, and increased frequency of urination, you might have a urinary tract infection that is not asymptiomatic bacteriuria.6
Treatment for asymptiomatic bacteriuria is no treatment at all. In fact, going ahead and treating most people with this problem may make it more difficult to treat infections in the future.7
4. Pink Eye
A pink eye is caused due to viruses, bacteria, allergens, and irritants. Its symptoms include
- Increased amount of tears
- Swelling or redness of the whites of the eyes
- Yellow, white, or green eye discharge
- Itchy, irritated, burning eyes
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Crusting of the lashes
Most cases of pink eye are mild and get better on their own. You might need antibiotics only if the symptoms persist and are caused by a bacterial infection. If any of the symptoms above worsen, do consult a professional at the earliest.8
5. Ear Infections
Ear infections might affect the ear canal or middle ear and are of three types. These include
- Acute otitis externa (AOE): This condition affects the ear canal and is also called swimmer’s ear.
- Otitis Media with Effusion (OME): This condition occurs when fluid builds up in the middle ear. There is no pain, pus, or fever associated with this type of infection.
- Acute Otitis Media (AOM): This condition occurs when fluid builds up in the middle ear and is often caused by bacteria, but can also be caused by viruses.
Often, ear infections, especially OME and AOM get better on their own and don’t need antibiotics. This is why your doctor might prescribe “watchful waiting” to see if symptoms do improve in time. You might also be given “delayed prescribing” which means you’d have to wait 2–3 days before taking an antibiotic course. Do consult a professional to make sure when and if you need to take antibiotics.9
Antibiotics might have side effects such as allergic reactions, and potentially deadly diarrhea. They might also interfere with other drugs that one might be taking for any specific condition. Taking an antibiotic when you don’t need it exposes you to the side effects of the drug and you don’t benefit from it. So, be sure to pay close attention to when and if you even need it.
|↑1||Antibiotic Resistance Questions and Answers. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention.|
|↑2||Antibiotic Resistance Questions and Answers. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention.|
|↑3||Sinus Infection (Sinusitis). Centers For Disease Control And Prevention.|
|↑4||Eczema. Better Health Channel.|
|↑5||Francis, Nick A., Matthew J. Ridd, Emma Thomas-Jones, Victoria Shepherd, Christopher C. Butler, Kerenza Hood, Chao Huang et al. “A randomised placebo-controlled trial of oral and topical antibiotics for children with clinically infected eczema in the community: the ChildRen with Eczema, Antibiotic Management (CREAM) study.” Health Technol Assess 20, no. 19 (2016): 1-84.|
|↑6||Asymptomatic bacteriuria. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑7||Mody, Lona, and Manisha Juthani-Mehta. “Urinary tract infections in older women: a clinical review.” Jama 311, no. 8 (2014): 844-854.|
|↑8||Pink Eye: Usually Mild and Easy to Treat. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention.|
|↑9||Ear Infection. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention.|