Why You Should Not Take Antibiotics For Common Cold & Flu


So the winter is around and soon we'll be coughing and sneezing. We all get flu and cold in the winter, but that's not bad, right? After all, its a hallmark sign of winter and as long as it is just a little bit of a runny nose and just the right amount of lightheadedness it's probably okay. A way to welcome winter, if you will. However, for a lot of us this flu and cold cycle stretches way more than it should, and keeps turning on and off throughout winter.

Now this is obviously due to low immunity or vulnerable immune system of our body, and until we do something to improve our immune systems this problem will likely persist. Yet, I'm not writing today to talk about ways to improve our immune system but I'm writing about a common practice or a common mistake we make when we get flu or cold: Taking Antibiotics.

First thing we need to understand is that cold and flu are not the same. Cold is milder, while Flu is like a more severe version of cold. The major difference is that Flu will give you severe headache and a sore throat, and chances are high that when you come down with flu you will likely seek medical attention to get rid of the pain and end up taking Antibiotics (If you live in Pakistan, then that is always the case).

So, why should you not take antibiotics to get rid of the pain ? After all, they are high power pills that ease pain and illness quickly and effectively? That is not true. Contrary to the belief in the general population, antibiotics aren't meant to deal with all kinds of illnesses and diseases. They are effective and efficient only in case of bacterial infections. They do a great job of fighting bacteria, but that is it. Anything other than a bacterial infection is outside the scope of antibiotics. Now, the big question: Are Cold and Flu some kind of bacterial infections ? Absolutely not. They are not bacterial infections. Cold is a virus, and Flu is also a virus and no amount of antibiotics can cure a virus.
See http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/antibiotics-colds

So you must be thinking that if cold/flu are viral and they cannot be treated with antibiotics then why the heck does my doctor prescribe me (and my kids) antibiotics when I catch it ? Whether it's a 3 day course or a 5 day, why am I always prescribed antibiotics when I catch cold or flu in winters. . . ? That is indeed a good question, and the funny thing is that the first thing you might hear from the doctor is that 'Oh, its just viral fever. . .' and then he goes on to write the prescription.

You may also be wondering then why do you get better after taking the pills ? Well, the length of a common cold or flu virus is about a week or so, by the time you go to the doctor its like the second or third day, the doctor asks you how many days it has been... and writes you a 3 or 5 day course accordingly. Truth is, after 3 or 5 days you'd be feeling much better any way.

So why do doctors prescribe you unnecessary drugs ? I don't know, but if they had to defend themselves they may say that they thought you had a 'bacterial throat infection' accompanying the cold or flu or caused by it, such as a 'strep throat'. But the truth is that most of the times the doctors aren't sure whether your strep throat is a symptom of common cold or caused by a bacteria unless he performs a test. And even though it is true that sometimes viruses make the body vulnerable to bacteria and sometimes a doctor may honestly suspect a bacterial infection as well, but for the most part I think it is common knowledge that seasonal cold and flu seen in the season are most likely just cold and flu and must be treated primarily as such.

But there's another angle to this too; our own ignorance. A lot of times doctors are just trying to fulfill the expectations of the patients... those who wont leave the office until the doctor writes them antibiotics because we think that only antibiotics will help. So our own attitude needs to change too. We should take drugs only when they're really needed. Because of our insistence on more drugs and the financial favors of the drug-selling companies attracting the doctors to prescribe more drugs, as well as an understandable chance of common cold and bacterial infection co-existing - doctors find it convenient to just write a prescription which makes both the doctor and patient happy.

I have two young kids and whenever they would catch cold or flu their doctor would prescribe paracetamol for fever and at least one antibiotic for throat ache. The problem was that as soon as one episode of cold would subside, another one would emerge soon, and I became concerned about giving antibiotics again and again. So I did some research, first I was interested in natural foods or solutions to combat colds but then I questioned the use of so much antibiotics on young kids. And I just shared with you what I have so far discovered, but there is more; not only do antibiotics have no role in combating cold or flu, but they will even harm you when you take them unnecessarily.

Taking Antibiotics often and unnecessarily makes the body more resistant to antibiotics. What it means is that the effect of antibiotics on our body will be reduced when we'll actually need them. It means we will need higher doses of antibiotic the next time, and an even higher dose the next time. Apart from that there is research that antibiotics are harmful during growth years in a number of ways. They temporarily slow down growth and development and each antibiotic course is followed by a small period of slow development in toddlers and younger kids. So if you are a parent, it is even more important to prevent unnecessary antibiotics from going in your child's system. Though, it doesn't mean we say no to antibiotics altogether when we're sick with a cold or flu, but to be informed and act carefully in taking them. That we ask our doctor not to prescribe them if they are not actually needed, or ask if you can wait a while and see if they are needed.

If the viral symptoms lasts more than two weeks, if your strep throat lasts more than 2-3 days, if your doctor insists on antibiotic course, if you yourself feel its not just common cold or flu, if a test shows positive for bacteria then you should absolutely take antibiotics because antibiotics have their benefits and they are life-saving when needed.

Further Reading:
http://www.medicaldaily.com/prescribing-antibiotics-flu-virus-useless-and-harmful-doctors-keep-doing-it-293564