Four Things to Consider Before Taking an Antibiotic


Dr. Allison Ledoux

Allison M. Ledoux, MD

Everyone hates being sick. When you feel that runny nose, cough, headache, or ear pain coming on, it can be tempting to run to your primary care doctor or urgent care for an antibiotic. But that Z-Pack may be putting your health at greater risk.

Each year, the CDC estimates that a whopping 30 percent of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary—that’s at least 47 million prescriptions annually. The scary truth is our overuse of antibiotics has created impossible-to-treat germs, like the one that killed a Nevada woman earlier this year.

Here are four things to consider before asking for that script:

  1. Try over-the-counter remedies. Three common causes for trips to the doctor are pesky sinus congestion, a nagging cough, and ear pain. Find congestion relief with Sudafed or Afrin, if you have high blood pressure. (Note: Afrin is not to be taken more than three days.) Sinus pain can be tackled with ibuprofen, Flonase or a saline sinus rinse like the Netipot. Honey is very effective for a cough, even compared with leading cough syrups; Delsym can also be an effective alternative.
  2. Know which conditions require antibiotics, and which do not. The CDC provides a handy list of infections that will likely clear up without antibiotics. For example, otherwise healthy individuals with bronchitis never need antibiotics, and most cases of sinusitis and adult ear infections will heal with other treatment. You can read the full list here.
  3. Rest and time are usually the best medicine. Make yourself a priority and take time to sleep, hydrate, and eat healthy foods. It can be tough in our always on-the-go society, but it’s critical for your recovery. Hopefully with a little TLC, you will be back to yourself in no time. But don’t be surprised if cold symptoms last a week or two and coughing persists for up to three weeks.
  4. Discuss your symptoms with your doctor. You can avoid unnecessary exposure to an antibiotic—or get treatment quickly if you do need one—by talking about your symptoms with your doctor. Be sure to check in with your doctor if you have a persistent fever over 100.4, symptoms lasting longer than 10-14 days, or symptoms that worsen after some initial improvement.

Navigating the confusing world of bacteria and viruses can be overwhelming. At South Shore Health, we open a dialogue with each patient about the best way to treat your specific health concerns—whether it requires an antibiotic or just a little rest and time.

Dr. Allison M. Ledoux is a family medicine doctor at South Shore Medical Center and is currently accepting new patients. She sees patients in our Norwell office.


Learn more about Primary Care at South Shore Health.