The Real Reason Your Doctor Won’t Prescribe You Antibiotics

Your throat feels like the Sahara desert and for three days you've only been able to breath through your mouth. Your nose feels sunburned even though you've switched to the fancy lotioned tissues for a dollar fifty more. People look at you with suspicion in the grocery store as you fight the urge to cough over crates of pristine vegetables.

You have a cold, but you are not alone.

In fact, the most common acute illness in the United States and also the most common reason for adults to miss work is the common cold, otherwise known in the medical community as an acute upper respiratory infection (URI). Not only is it one of the most common medical diagnoses in the doctor's office, it is also one of the most mismanaged.

More than 90% of URIs are caused by viruses. In one study of 200 patients with a common cold, only 7 were found to have a bacterial infection. In total, there are over a whooping 200 known viruses that can cause the common cold. More surprising, nearly 20-30% of all colds are caused by viruses yet to be identified by scientists.

Why is it important that most colds are caused by viruses? Because antibiotics do absolutely nothing against viruses. Most people will simply get better on their own within two weeks.


Perhaps the most shocking fact is that doctors are well aware of this fact, yet nearly 50% of all patients who see a doctor for a common cold are prescribed antibiotics. This, despite the American Academy of Family Physicians recommending strongly against prescribing antibiotics for the common cold.

More worrisome is that no treatment comes without risk. Common side effects of antibiotics include stomachache and diarrhea. However, rare and more serious side effects include allergic reactions which in severe instances can lead to death. 

Your doctor swore an oath to first do no harm. Antibiotics provide no relief for the common cold, but they can cause plenty of harm.

So, the next time you're blowing out snot rockets and you've sucked on enough lozenges to kill a miniature goat, but your doctor still refuses to give you antibiotics, consider yourself lucky. You've found someone special: a well trained professional who truly has your best interest in mind; a doctor who takes their oath to do no harm seriously.

The real reason your doctor won't prescribe you antibiotics is because she is a good doctor. 


  Values in Medicine, Feature Article, Editorial
  wasteful spending, health decisions, health care costs, prescription drugs, antibiotics, upper respiratory infection, common cold, family physician,



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