(NC) Busier schedules and more time spent indoors means winter is also unofficially cold and flu season. If a seasonal ailment has you or your kids down, it’s important to know what it is so you can get treatment and start to feel better. More than recognizing if you have a cold or flu, it’s essential to know if your illness is viral or bacterial because this will determine whether you need an antibiotic. Only bacterial, not viral, infections benefit from antibiotics.
Taking an antibiotic when you don’t need one won’t help you get well; in fact, it could end up hurting in the long run. With antibiotic resistance, also known as antimicrobial resistance, on the rise and the World Health Organization calling the issue a “global health emergency,” it’s essential to know if an antibiotic will help before popping a pill. Your doctor is your best resource for determining whether an antibiotic or another medication is the remedy, but the information below is a great primer before your appointment.
Fever. A fever is a tricky symptom that can be present with a bacterial infection and also with a viral illness like the flu. The likelihood of it being a flu increases if one is going around in your community. Your best bet is to be proactive and get a flu shot at the beginning of the season.
Sore throat. A sore throat is common in many sicknesses. It can happen with several other symptoms in a cold or flu, or it could be a throat infection, for which you can get a test to determine if you need an antibiotic.
Chest symptoms. Many people think that anything more than the common cold is a bacterial infection, but even illnesses like bronchitis and pneumonia can be viral or bacterial. Your doctor can help determine the culprit. If it’s viral, an antibiotic won’t help you, but your doctor may recommend an antiviral medication instead.
Runny nose. A runny or stuffy nose is another tough symptom to decode. It can be due to a cold, but even one caused by a sinus infection may not need an antibiotic, as it too can be bacterial or viral.
Lab testing. The best way to tell if you need an antibiotic is with a lab test of nasal or cough secretions or a throat swab. The lab test will determine if you’re sick because of bacteria, and if so, can help your doctor decide on the best antibiotic to prescribe.