5 Times When You Should Say ‘No’ to Antibiotics


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Proceed with caution the next time you visit your doctor. Public health officials have estimated that up to half of all antibiotic use in America is either unnecessary or inappropriate. Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, warned that misusing the drug could result in selection for resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistance then emerged just 10 years after the widespread introduction of penicillin. Today, superbugs have grown into one of the major health crises of the modern era. The CDC even called one of these antibiotic-resistant superbugs the “nightmare bacteria.”

The sources of the problem span from how we raise livestock to rapidly-spreading infections in hospitals to doctors grossly over-prescribing antibiotics. When it comes to the inappropriate use of antibiotics, the costs go way beyond your pocketbook. No one wants to pay for a medication that’s not going to work anyway, but that should be the least of your concerns. Each year, at least 2 million people are infected with drug-resistant superbugs. Roughly 23,000 die from them.

As a patient, there are things you can do to help. One of the most important steps you should take is to start questioning whether you truly need a prescription for antibiotics, even when your doctor is ready to dole them out.

Consumer Reports says first you should take precautions to prevent infections from occurring in the first place. When you do need the drugs, take them as directed. Do not use leftover antibiotics or share them. Use antibiotic creams sparingly. If you don’t have a bacterial infection, don’t try to convince your doctor otherwise. You can also request targeted drugs or ask to delay treatment for a few days so you can attempt to fight off the infection without drugs.

With the help of a list from Consumer Reports and the Choosing Wisely initiative, we have outlined five common conditions that typically don’t require antibiotics.