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All About Antibiotics: When Are They Necessary?


As we continue on through the cold, winter months, it won’t be uncommon for members of your family to experience the annual runny nose, sore throat, earache or cough. All of these symptoms can be frustrating – to say the least – and we will all search for that quick “cure all” to return back to the hustle of holiday time. For some illnesses, antibiotics are the answer to helping us ultimately feel better. Some illnesses, however, just require time, patience and rest. When antibiotics are given inappropriately to remedy the latter, it puts us all at risk for unnecessary side effects and antibiotic resistance.

Both the CDC and the NYS Department of Health have been working to educate the public and healthcare providers about the dangers of antibiotic misuse. This is because antibiotic resistance has become a significant health problem both in the United States and the rest of the world.

It’s important to learn more about antibiotics and their safe use. Try out the quiz below and put your knowledge to the test:



The average duration of a cough is 7 days.


The average duration of a cough is 17.8 days in upper respiratory infections and other acute cough illnesses.



In healthy individuals, bronchitis is a bacterial illness and needs to be treated with antibiotics.


The vast majority of bronchitis is caused by a viral illness. Viral illnesses are not treated with antibiotics. Bronchitis is a self-limited infection that causes inflammation in the airway.

Symptoms of bronchitis include:  Coughing with or without mucus production, soreness in the chest, fatigue (feeling tired), mild headache, mild body aches, watery eyes, and sore throat.

The cough of bronchitis can last up to 6 weeks. There are other medications that can be given to help with the symptoms of bronchitis, but antibiotics are not the answer.

For self-care: Get plenty of rest, drink fluids, use a cool mist humidifier, and use lozenges (not for children under 4 years of age).

You should seek medical attention when you have a temperature higher than 100.4 °F, a fever and cough with thick or bloody mucus, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, symptoms that last more than 3 weeks or repeated episodes of bronchitis. You may still not require antibiotics despite these symptoms, but this should be discussed with a healthcare provider.



A Z-pack (also known as azithromycin or Zithromax) is a great choice for an antibiotic for my winter time illness.


It is not uncommon for patients to ask for a Z-pack for conditions like sinusitis, pharyngitis (sore throats) or bronchitis.

There is increasing resistance to azithromycin in the community. Azithromycin has a long half-life, meaning it stays in the body for a long period of time. It is not indicated in cases of bronchitis (which is viral in the majority of cases), bacteria sinus infections or as first-line treatment for strep throat.

If you have taken a Z-pack in the past and improved for one of the conditions above, it may be because the illness ran its course. If you are being prescribed a Z-pack, please ask questions to ensure that this is the best antibiotic for the condition that you have.



If I am being prescribed an antibiotic, I should ask why it is indicated.


Most patients tend to insist that they need an antibiotic instead of asking why an antibiotic is indicated. At least 30% of antibiotic prescriptions written in the outpatient setting are unnecessary.

It is important to ask you medical provider why an antibiotic is indicated. Most sinus infections and sore throats are caused by viruses. Colds, upper respiratory infections and bronchitis are viral infections. Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections.

Antibiotics cause 1 out of 5 emergency department visits for adverse drug events.

Antibiotics are the most common cause of emergency department visits for adverse drug events in children under 18 years of age. Reactions to antibiotics can include rash, vomiting and diarrhea, body aches, difficulty breathing and swallowing and even death.

Antibiotics can also lead to other infections. They kill the healthy bacteria in the gut, allowing more harmful bacteria, such as C. difficile, to grow in its place. This is a painful illness that leads to abdominal pain, diarrhea, and blood in the stool. It can even lead to death.

It is also important to ask how long the antibiotic should be taken for and if there is anything else that can be used to treat symptoms.


For more information about antibiotics and the dangers of resistance, ask your doctor or nurse – during the times that you’re sick and even when you’re well. For non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries, Five Star Urgent Care is here to save the day. Learn more about what we treat and walk in today.

Watch Dr. LouAnne Giangreco explain more about when antibiotics are necessary.

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