4 Surprising Times to Skip Antibiotics | Reader's Digest

4 Surprising Times to Skip Antibiotics

By Lauren Gelman

4 Surprising Times to Skip Antibiotics
The FDA’s recent warning about certain heart dangers of the commonly prescribed antibiotic azithromycin (the one in Z-Paks) puts yet another nail in the coffin of the whole idea of taking antibiotics “just in case.” The medication may slightly raise the risk of death in people with heart rhythm problems. Those with long QT syndrome, low levels of potassium and magnesium, and a slower than usual heart beat are most at risk. The drug’s label has been updated to warn patients of these dangers.

Although the risks are small and apply to a small group of people, the news underscores the need to be smart about antibiotics and avoid using  the drugs for infections that are probably viral, not bacterial, or are as likely to resolve on their own without them. The issue of overprescribing is spurring a sea change in treatment for common conditions.

“Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat,” England’s top health official said in a press conference this week. “If we don’t act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can’t be treated by antibiotics.”

You probably already know you shouldn’t take antibiotics for a cold, but here are four other common times the popular meds won’t help—and may harm you instead.

Kids’ ear infection: Children under age 2 may not automatically need antibiotics to heal this common childhood ailment, according to new ear infection treatment guidelines issued last month by the American Academy of Pediatrics (previous guidelines recommended them). Because the infection often clears up on its own, children between 6 and 23 months can be observed with close follow-up. If symptoms don’t get better after two to three days, then kids should start taking the meds.

Bronchitis: Up to 80 percent of all visits for this respiratory infection, which is usually viral, are treated with antibiotics, a trend that is contributing to resistance. Instead, bronchitis should be treated with other meds to manage symptoms, like cough or pain drugs. “This medication [antibiotics] is more likely to hurt you than help you,” Jeffrey A. Linder, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School said in a JAMA news release about the issue of overprescribing them.

Sinus infection: They’re the fifth-biggest reason for antibiotics prescriptions, but more than 90 percent are caused by viruses, rendering the drugs useless. In fact, a study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that sinus infection patients who took antibiotics didn’t experience an improvement in symptoms compared with those who tool a placebo.

Bladder infection: Doctors often prescribe a weeks’ worth of antibiotics to treat bladder infections, but they can be successfully treated in three days, according to preventive health expert David Katz, MD, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. In fact, a single dose of the right antibiotic will cure over 90 percent of cases.

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