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Can’t You Just Give me an Antibiotic?

Antibiotics are among the most powerful tools in our medical arsenal, but they are not miracle cures. They have a time and a place, but there are plenty of cases where they will not do any good for the patient. Understanding their limits is the key to understanding why we cannot simply hand them out for every problem.

Antibiotics Can’t Cure Viruses

Antibiotic medications exist to kill bacteria and are very effective against many of the diseases that are caused by bacterial infections. On the other hand, bacteria are not the only thing that can cause a disease. Viruses are responsible for many common medical problems, such as the common cold and the flu. An antibiotic simply will not help in that case because there are no bacteria to eliminate.

Many viral diseases do have symptoms that resemble those caused by bacterial diseases. That can lead to a lot of confusion for patients because it is hard to tell them apart. The important thing to remember is that we decide if we should use antibiotics based on the cause of the disease rather than by simply looking at the symptoms.

Minor Infections Don’t Need Them

There are times when antibiotics are a poor choice for fighting against a bacterial infection. That is often the case for sinus infections and some relatively mild diseases that will get better on their own without treatment. The antibiotics could get rid of the bacteria, but they just aren’t necessary.

We try to avoid using antibiotics when they aren’t necessary because they can have drawbacks for the patient. They are definitely worth using in many cases, but the benefits will not always outweigh the costs in the case of these minor infections.

Side Effects Can Hurt

All medication can have side effects and antibiotics are no different from the rest. Those side effects are often the biggest disadvantage to taking the antibiotics and are often the reason that we try to avoid them for minor problems. After all, there is no reason to take them if the side effects are likely to be worse than the disease itself!