Not prescribing an antibiotic may be better for your health

Released: 12/07/17

When you or your loved one is suffering from a nasty cold or illness have you ever wondered why your doctor seems to be stingy with antibiotic prescriptions? What could it hurt to take a few antibiotics hoping they’ll help, right? Wrong.

“While antibiotics are some of the most amazing medicines of our time,” says Sarah Wymer, M.D., family medicine physician with Mayo Clinic Health System at Winneshiek Medical Center Decorah Clinic, “they only help to destroy bacteria and unfortunately, in spite of what you may have heard, antibiotics don’t do a thing for viruses.” Viruses tend to be much more common than any bacteria and the common cold and flu viruses can run rampant particularly during the winter.

Antibiotics don’t come without risk, both on an individual and a public health level.  You may have heard about a potentially lethal superbug that has recently emerged called ‘CRE’ – which is resistant to most known antibiotics and difficult to treat.  “MRSA is another dangerous bacteria that has become resistant to many antibiotics,” says Dr. Wymer. “These dangerous bugs come about because taking antibiotics unnecessarily kills off the weakest ‘good’ bacteria in our bodies, allowing the nasty ones to overgrow and take over. And these nasty bugs tend to be more resistant to antibiotics, so when you really need that prescription to work, it just won’t.”

Every time your doctor prescribes antibiotics, he or she must think of the risks and consequences to your health. “The doctors at Winneshiek Medical Center are committed to protecting our patients from antibiotic overuse,” says Chief Medical Officer Robert Flinchbaugh, D.O., Winneshiek Medical Center. “We know it may seem easier to the patient if we would write that prescription, but ultimately it does everyone a disservice.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to feel better when you or someone you care for has a viral infection you should:

  • Ask your healthcare professional about over-the-counter treatment options that my help reduce symptoms
  • Drink more fluids
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Use a cool-mist vaporizer or saline nasal spray to relieve congestion
  • Sooth your throat with ice, sore throat spray or lozenges (Do not give lozenges to young children)
  • Use honey to relieve a cough (Do not give honey to an infant under one year of age)
  • If you are diagnosed with the flu, there are flu antiviral drugs that can be used and you doctor needs to prescribe them

To learn more, make an appointment with a Mayo Clinic Health System provider at Winneshiek Medical Center Decorah Clinic at  or  call 563-382-2911.

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