Alternatives to antibiotics this cold season | TheUnion.com

Alternatives to antibiotics this cold season

Valerie Costa
Special to The Union

Ill man holding hot drink and warming up

It's the holiday season, which means it's also cold and flu season. This year, instead of prescribing antibiotics, your doctor will likely suggest other ways to treat your viruses to help turn the tide against what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found to be a 50 percent overuse of antibiotics across the nation.

The most common reasons for visits to the doctor this season are acute respiratory tract infections (including the common cold, bronchitis, most sore throats and sinus infections), which do not need an antibiotic.

Other common issues that people come to the doctor for expecting antibiotics include ear infections and pink eye, which according to Family Medicine Practitioner Dr. Elizabeth Claydon are viral most of the time.

According to the CDC's study, unnecessary use of antibiotics contributes to the spread of so-called "super bugs" — antibiotic-resistant infections that pose a serious health threat, both to individuals and to our entire community.

For that reason, the CDC has recommended that primary care doctors are urged to encourage patients to treat their symptoms with over-the-counter medications and to give their illness time to work its way through their system.

"Depending on other diagnoses, symptomatic treatment with nasal saline rinses; nasal steroid sprays; tea with honey, lemon, and cayenne pepper; and decongestants, when appropriate, can help you to get through the symptoms," Claydon explained.

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Sometimes, though, antibiotics are necessary, and in those cases should not be avoided. For instance, people with COPD are treated more aggressively or more quickly with antibiotics for various reasons.

"The average cough from a cold is about 18 days. If you are feeling better, are not short of breath, but still have that cough it's usually fine," Claydon said. "If it lasts longer than a month or you have ongoing other symptoms past 10-14 days you probably should get checked out."

Whether or not you need an antibiotic when you are ill, make sure to practice good hygiene and common sense to help avoid spreading that particular brand of holiday "cheer.

"When you are ill, stay home and away from others whenever possible. If you do have to go out, practice basic humankindness and make sure to cover your cough and sneeze into your elbow and wash your hands frequently.

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