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Everyone agrees that antibiotics are overused, but everyone overuses them. the reasons for overreliance are psychological: Doctors need to earn patients’ trust by prescribing something as well as to consider the distant specter of liability. And then of course there is the laziness factor. While it’s easy to whip out the prescription pad, it’s harder to spend fifteen minutes communicating actual medical knowledge.
I encourage parents to fully understand their child condition and the range of treatments available before defaulting to an antibiotic, which has no positive effect when it’s not warranted. I find that most people will forgo unnecessary treatment once they understand the reasoning behind waiting. Questions like “If we don’t treat this condition with antibiotics, is there a decent chance it will get better on its own?” should become part of your repertoire. Assuming your doctor is open to such back-and-forth, this attitude will help reduce undesirable side effect, such as yeast infections or allergic reactions. By the way, if your doctor is not open to such discussion, I suggest that you find one who is.
The overperscription of antibiotics is an economic issue, certainly – drug companies get fat when their products are prescribed – but it is also a serious medical one. Those germs that survive a first round of antibiotics become resistant and more difficult to eliminate, posing a greater threat to the community.
What are the most common situation where antibiotics are improperly prescribed? First of all, there’s the common cold. Antibiotics have no effect on colds, even if there’s an everlasting nasal discharge and even when this discharge is green (which does not automatically indicate sinusitis). The same thing goes for the flu, unless there are complications. And antibiotics should no longer be used routinely for ear infections or lingering coughs.
Think of it this way: When you actually need antibiotics, you want them to work, so don’t waste their potency by needlessly overusing them.