We all know that antibiotics have revolutionised the way we treat infections but many bacteria are developing resistance to antibiotics making treatment of infections more difficult and antibiotics less effective.
Public Health England warns that taking antibiotics when you don’t need them puts you and your family at risk. Antibiotics are essential to treat serious bacterial infections and they should not be used to treat illnesses, such as coughs, earache and sore throats that can get better by themselves.
Antibiotics will not treat viruses that can cause common colds, sore throats and, coughs. They simply don’t work. For most healthy people your immune system will help you recover and you don’t need to visit your GP.
Most sore throats will start to get better on their own within 3 days and coughs within 3 weeks, on average. Only contact your GP if your symptoms are not improving after this time, or if you are elderly or have other medical conditions such as diabetes or heart conditions.
Where to get advice
We’re asking people with colds, coughs and sore throats to visit their pharmacist first. A trained pharmacist will be able to advise on whether you need to contact your GP practice.
There is a small risk that antibiotics may actually make you worse by causing rashes and stomach upsets. Frequent use of antibiotics builds up resistance and so makes it harder for us to really fight the nasty type of infections. We are asking our patients to help us by using their local pharmacy or NHS 111 and not always expecting a prescription for antibiotics if they visit their GP or Practice Nurse.
There are many ways you can get help without seeing your GP. You can talk to your pharmacist about taking an over-the-counter remedy and pain relief or you can contact NHS 111 if you want more advice or to check you’re doing the right thing. The important things are to rest, drink plenty and wash your hands regularly with soap and water help to reduce the spread of infection.
Taking antibiotics encourages harmful bacteria that live inside you to become resistant. That means that antibiotics may not work when you really need them. As antibiotic resistance increases, common procedures such as caesarean sections and hip replacements could become life-threatening without antibiotics to ward off infections.
Cancer patients are also much more vulnerable if antibiotics don’t work; both cancer and the treatment (chemotherapy) make it harder for the immune system to fight infections. Antibiotics are critical to both prevent and treat infections in these patients.
If you do need antibiotics
Antibiotics are powerful and precious medicines. If you are prescribed antibiotics, make sure you finish the course. Don’t stop taking them when you start to feel better because the antibiotics may have killed only some of the bacteria and you may become unwell again. Also, never share or save them. They’ve been prescribed for you only and your GP has prescribed the right antibiotic for your illness and the length of time you need to take them for. Remember it is very important that you finish the course.