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Thinking of taking antibiotics for a sore throat? Think again

Thinking of taking antibiotics for a sore throat? Think again

While the sun blazed merrily in Islamabad; I relentlessly combed the streets of Blue Area in search of a pharmacy.

Secretions poured from my nose and my eyes itched incessantly. A sore throat also quickly followed due to the unabated release of histamine throughout my body. It was easy to discern that I was suffering from a full blown allergy attack.

As I stumbled into a pharmacy with a paper towel shielding my nose; I immediately caught the attention of several clerks.

At the time, I was a final year medical student eager to commence my professional life as a practicing physician. In this upscale pharmacy, I was approached by a salesman. He had asked me a few questions unaware of my medical background and reached a shocking conclusion.

Brother, you need a course of antibiotics. You will feel immediate relief.

I nearly choked.

With no fever, productive cough, source of infection, or underlying medical problem I was alarmed by this salesmans’ recommendation. What's worse is that many health care providers would recommend the same.

Also read: ‘Antibiotic resistance a threat to public health’

While my emotions flared, I took a deep breath and calmly reflected on the situation. How could he not know the potential harmful consequences of giving antibiotics when they are not warranted? Sadly, most people are unaware of the consequences of freely dispensing unnecessary antibiotics.

In my case, I was suffering from a post nasal drip and unchecked allergies that ultimately irritated my throat. There was no indication for any antibiotic use whatsoever.

Antibiotics have a very strong likelihood of hurting you in instances where they are not indicated and should be used cautiously. Putting any chemical in your body blindly can be devastating. The side effects of antibiotics are too numerous to list in this blog but do include diarrhea, nausea, decreased oral intake, and potentially life threatening allergic responses.

Additionally, utilising antibiotics unnecessarily can cause bacteria to mutate in your body and make infections in the future much harder to treat. Because we use antibiotics more often than they are indicated; multi-drug resistant organisms are arising causing significant morbidity.

Also read: India's lax antibiotic controls raise killer disease fears

We have already seen the emergency of life threatening drug resistant bacteria such as Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus. There is no tangible data to elucidate how common the overuse of antibiotics is; but judging by my personal experience it appears to be rampant.

An assortment of things can lead to a sore throat. Asthma, Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (Heartburn), Post-Nasal Drip are common noninfectious causes of a sore throat.

A study in America demonstrated that Strep, a common bacterial cause of sore throat is only responsible in 10 percent of instances. Yet, more than 60 per cent of people who complain of sore throat received a prescription for antibiotics. It is important that your physician or care provider spend an ample amount of time to explore the etiology of your sore throat.

Common colds, cough, flu, and bronchitis usually do not require antibiotics. In fact, most of these conditions are caused by viruses. The conditions often respond favorably to conservative measures such as drinking lots of fluids, resting, and taking anti-pyretic medications such as Tylenol.

Receiving antibiotics for these conditions is not only wasteful but very harmful.

Most doctors fall into the trap of prescribing antibiotics when unjustified because patients assume they feel better when receiving antibiotics.

Also read: Life without antibiotics

The use of antibiotics in children is reaching an even more alarming rate. It is imperative that when you see your physician to explore the cause of your symptoms and understand the risks of taking antibiotics.

As a health care provider, I always act with tremendous caution and reasoning prior to giving a prescription of antibiotics. Ensure that your health care provider is doing the same.


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