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Respiratory Infections and Antiobiotic Use

Respiratory Infections and Antiobiotic Use

Respiratory infections are very common. It is believed that the average adult has three such infections a year. Doctors call these infections “upper respiratory infections”. These include “colds”, the flu, sore throats, ear aches, sinus infections, and bronchitis. 

There is good news and bad news about these infections however. The good news is that they are almost always caused by viruses, and will resolve on their own, while the bad news is that antibiotics don’t do anything to fight viruses, so they won’t help the vast majority of these infections and can sometimes take a week or more to resolve.

Unnecessary or incomplete antibiotic use increases the chance that bacteria in your system will become immune to the antibiotic, so when you really need them, they may not work.

So, what should you do?

Prevent infections.

  • Get your flu shot yearly, and if your provider recommends it, get the pneumonia vaccine and hepatitis vaccine. Make sure you have had the new type of tetanus vaccine that includes the additional prevention against whooping cough, which is now recommended for adults.

Keep you and your family or co-workers safe.

  • Cover your nose when you sneeze and your mouth when you cough. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Stay home when you’re sick so you don’t expose others to your illness. 

How do I know if antibiotics are needed?

Your provider can give you guidance to know when and if you should take an antibiotic. You should call any time you think you need to see a healthcare professional.

In specific, you should contact your provider if you:

  • Have been sick more than 1 week
  • Have a fever over 100.4º
  • Have thick or bloody phlegm
  • Are short of breath
  • Have a sore throat with an exposure to “strep”
  • Have symptoms which do not improve with over-the-counter medications

For more information, go to the Centers for Disease Control website:

(February, 2013)