How to navigate the antibiotic highway

As many as 50% of the antibiotics prescribed in the United States may be unnecessary or inappropriate. This contributes to antibiotic resistance, avoidable side effects, and increased cost of care.

Like driving on a multilane highway, using antibiotics appropriately can be complex. But like driving, it’s made easier by following some basic evidence based rules, while unexpected events may intervene to change the route.

this post updated October 28, 2022

Most medical experts believe we need to STOP using unnecessary antibiotics. (photo from Pixabay)

As many as 50% of the antibiotics prescribed in the United States may be unnecessary or inappropriate. This contributes to

  • antibiotic resistance ,
  • avoidable side effects of the drugs, and
  • increased medical cost without benefit.

The best source of medical advice for you personally is your own doctor, or one who talks to and examines you.

Exceptions to rules exist, every medical situation is unique.  So although these recommendations are firm, they are not absolute. This is just a partial list which includes most but not all common infections.

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STOP- don’t treat these with antibiotics

Most upper respiratory infections including

Acute viral gastroenteritis, aka stomach flu, with nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea

Some of these may be treated with anti- VIRAL medication, not antibiotics.

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SLOW DOWN- these may not need an antibiotic, at least not immediately

Ear infections -otitis media

Sinusitis– sinus infections

spider or tick bites– many of these are not bites at all, but are other skin diseases, including bacterial infections (see below)

sore throats– pharyngitis or tonsillitis

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GO- these infections usually need antibiotics to resolve successfully

Urinary tract infections- this includes the kidney, bladder, prostate

Skin infections including animal and human bites

Pneumonia (although can can be due to viruses, especially in children)

Whooping cough –pertussis

Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever- these are both transmitted by tick bites; but not all tick bites result in infection

Sexually transmitted diseases caused by bacteria – gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis

Any infection severe enough to require admission to a hospital- including infections of any internal organ, bones, joints, brain; included here are infections which develop during a hospital stay

Check out the links for more info.

(By the way, I hope you enjoyed the photos. I took them at a Veterans Day parade.)

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exploring the HEART of responsible antibotic use

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Author: Aletha Cress Oglesby, M.D.

As a family physician, I explore the HEART of HEALTH in my work, recreation, community, and through writing. My blog, Watercress Words, informs and inspires us to live in health. I believe we can turn our health challenges into healthy opportunities. When we do, we can share the HEART of health with our families, communities, and the world. Come explore and share with me.

25 thoughts on “How to navigate the antibiotic highway”

  1. Very informative. Thanks! When my doc prescribed antibiotic for viral fever, I asked him why as it won’t have any effect on the virus. His reply was that he anticipates a bacterial infection and the antibiotic is to prevent that.


    1. Thanks for the feedback. Prescribing antibiotics for prevention is appropriate in some situations, although less than we used to believe. Prescribing always involves some degree of clinical judgment, so as long as a physician has a reasonable rational, I wouldn’t argue the point. As the patient, it’s always your choice to comply or not. It pays to be well informed.


  2. It is so very important to have a good physician that knows you and you can trust. I agree there are too many antibiotics being prescribed, but there are also just as many people who avoid the doctor for so long they end up in the ER with a horrible illness that could have been prevented. I just try to stay informed and involved and really find doctors that are good. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!



  3. Very good post. I agree that doctors tend to overprescribe, both antibiotics and meds in general. We started using essential oils a couple years ago and have been able to reduce our usage of meds significantly because of overall better health. Of course, docs and meds do have a place and are a blessing when necessary. Great post!


  4. I’m so conscious of every medication that goes into my kids, but I need to become even more so. We had our daughter on an antibiotic (not the usual go-to one for first infections), and it turned out she was allergic to it, which made her symptoms so much worse! I think it was a case of the ER doctor not fully checking her history – my husband, her father, is allergic too. I’ll be much more careful with when and what we give our kids in terms of antibiotics in the future!


    1. Thanks for sharing your example although I’m sorry that your daughter had a bad reaction, I hope it was easily resolved. It’s just as important to know which antibiotic to use , not just when. Sometimes reactions can be unpredictable; you can react to something you’ve tolerated in the past. So yes, make sure you understand the benefits and risks of all medications your family receives.


  5. Thanks for your insights Jennifer and Caroline. I think one of the most interesting questions in healthcare is why some people seem to come down with everything and others never get sick, no matter what they do or don’t do. I believe the answer lies in that we are all unique and there are still many things about our bodies we do not understand. So much to learn it never gets boring. Sharing information is valuable and helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. All too often, we want instant cure and get upset when we don’t have it. Antibiotics are only miracles if we don’t overuse them. I tend to use a lot of zinc and herbal supplements to boost my immune system and thieves oil to head off illness.


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