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When should you take an antibiotic?

With the official arrival of cold and flu season, and the coughs, congestion and runny noses that come along with it, it can be hard to know when to eat some chicken soup and when to head to the doctor for a prescription. In honor of the CDC’s “Get Smart About Antibiotics Week” here are a few things you need to know when it comes to deciding whether an antibiotic is the right course of treatment for your ailment.

Taking antibiotics to often can lead to trouble

It’s never a good idea to take antibiotics unless your doctor believes that they are absolutely necessary. Every time you take a course of antibiotics, the bacteria they are made to combat learn to adapt and get stronger. The more antibiotics bacteria are exposed to the more the weaker ones die off, leaving stronger bacteria that are much harder to kill. According to the CDC nearly every strain of bacteria has become more resilient over the years making them harder to treat through antibiotics.

Sometimes you just don’t need an antibiotic

Antibiotics are used solely to treat illnesses caused by bacteria. Many of the common winter illnesses like cold and flu are not caused by bacteria at all, they are caused by viruses. Antibiotics are completely ineffective against viruses, so chances are, if you are suffering from a sore throat or sinus infection an antibiotic is not going to help. That being said, there are occasions when coughs and other cold symptoms can be caused by bacteria so if symptoms don’t go away after a few days or if you have a fever it’s a good idea to check with your doctor.

There are better ways to treat the cold or flu than antibiotics

While there is no cure for a viral illness, there are things you can do to alleviate symptoms and make yourself feel better. The most important thing you can do is make sure that you get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids; your body needs to keep up its strength to fight off the virus. There are many over the counter products such as saline nasal drops and acetaminophen that can ease congestion and help ease aches and pains. Even certain foods can help ward off cold symptoms, for sore throats try a cup of hot tea with lots of honey; it makes a great all-natural soother.

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