The number of antibiotic-resistant infections and deaths increased by 15% in 2020, making it all the more important to hold off on antibiotics when it’s not necessary, like treating the common cold.
Antibiotic resistance is the idea that the more we use antibiotics, the more bacterial pathogens get used to them and find ways to survive, rendering them ineffective. The fear is that resistant species of bacteria will emerge that cause infections that we will no longer be able to treat.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, we started using a lot more antibiotics, either because we thought they helped treat the virus (they don’t), or because we weren’t always sure whether people had COVID-19 or a bacterial pneumonia. According to the CDC, roughly 80% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 between March and October 2020 received an antibiotic.
During the same time there was a dramatic 15% increase in antibiotic-resistant infections and deaths, most likely associated with the increased antibiotic use.
The reality is that COVID-19 is a virus similar to the viruses that cause almost all cases of the common cold and sinus infections, and COVID-19 can itself cause a sinus infection! Taking antibiotics for viral infections like these is usually not necessary and can cause increased levels of antibiotic resistance in the community, putting ourselves and our future generations at risk.
When treating colds and sinus infections, it is most important to keep the secretions flowing: stay hydrated, use sinus irrigations like a Neti pot, and take decongestants to open up and drain the sinuses. This prevents stagnation of the secretions which puts you at higher risk to develop a true bacterial infection.
It is better to treat the symptoms aggressively and hold off on antibiotics. Oftentimes if you just give it a few more days, you will see that symptoms start improving on their own. The best way to do this is to have the discussion with your primary care physician, someone who knows you and can follow you over a period of several days to make sure your symptoms get better.
Every once in a while the symptoms may not get better, or may get worse, and those are the rare circumstances where it may be appropriate to use antibiotics.
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