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When Should You Take Antibiotics?

People are taking too many antibiotics today!

Doctors need to lay off the antibiotics. That's the message from a growing number of health organizations, including the CDC, after a new study found that doctors are either prescribing too many antibiotics or giving us the wrong ones.

For example: Research from the University of Utah shows that when doctors prescribe antibiotics today, there's a one-in-four chance it'll be for a condition where the drug has no effect, including most coughs, colds, sore throats and flu. Those conditions are caused by a virus, and antibiotics don't work against viruses. They fight BACTERIA.

Also in 60% of cases, doctors now prescribe the strongest antibiotics available known as the "big guns." And experts say that's a problem because the big guns kill both bad and good bacteria and make us more prone to developing antibiotic resistance.

Why are doctors prescribing so many antibiotics? Experts say it's a lot of patients are demanding it. Say we have a nagging cough. We may not want to wait three days for test results to find out what's causing it. So we'll ask doctors to give us something now for a "quick fix." And without knowing exactly what's wrong, doctors may give us the strongest thing they've got, just to cover their bases. That explains why when patients have symptoms of acute bronchitis, doctors now prescribe antibiotics 80% of the time, even though bronchitis usually goes away on its own in a few days without any medication.

So when should you take antibiotics? Experts say they work best for bacterial infections, including strep throat, bladder infections and severe sinus infections that last longer than ten days. And depending on your condition, experts recommend taking what's known as "narrow-spectrum" antibiotics, like penicillin or amoxicillin. Those are milder drugs that target only specific bugs and preserve more of the good bacteria we need to stay healthy.