Are antibiotics really necessary when nursing upper respiratory infections?
A growing concern has emerged as one of the top ten global health threats currently facing humanity — Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR). Antimicrobial resistance is a phenomenon in which bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites evolve and develop resistance to the drugs that were once effective in treating infections. This resistance occurs primarily due to the overuse and misuse of antimicrobial agents, such as antibiotics and antivirals.
Antibiotics are typically prescribed unnecessarily due to a variety of factors including patient expectations or healthcare provider uncertainty. Incomplete treatment courses can also facilitate the development of AMR. Failure to complete a full course of antibiotics can lead to the survival of tenacious bacteria which could develop resistance mechanisms, rendering future infections untreatable. The overprescription of antibiotics for viral infections where they have no efficacy, such as sore throats or upper respiratory infections are some of the main contributors to the rising threat of AMR.
In parts of the world where antibiotic use is high, this treatment is now futile in more than half of patients. The ASEAN region, specifically, is considered a problem area for AMR, with Malaysia following suit. AMR is expected to affect 4.75 million individuals in Asia alone.
AMR carries profound implications for the immune system
The diminished efficacy of antibiotics faced with resistant bacteria prolongs the battle against infections, placing additional burdens on the immune system. Since infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria tend to persist longer, more effort is required by the immune system to contain them. As AMR continues to spread, healthcare providers have fewer effective antibiotics at their disposal. This limitation can compromise the immune system’s ability to combat infections.
Reducing the unnecessary use of antibiotics is a vital step in slowing down the emergence of resistant bacteria. It is essential for healthcare professionals and patients alike to exercise caution when considering antibiotic treatment, reserving them for situations where they are truly warranted. Additionally, prevention through vaccination, good hygiene practices, and public health measures play a significant role in reducing the burden of infectious diseases.
By promoting a more judicious approach to antibiotic use and emphasizing alternative methods of managing illnesses, we can collectively contribute to the global effort to combat antimicrobial resistance and ensure that antibiotics remain effective for future generations.
Reducing the use of antibiotics to treat common illnesses
To mitigate this crisis, it is crucial to explore alternative methods for managing illnesses that do not rely on antibiotics. Not every illness requires antibiotics, and reducing their unnecessary use can be a powerful strategy in the fight against AMR.
Common Cold and Flu
The common cold and influenza (flu) are viral infections and, therefore, are not responsive to antibiotics. These illnesses are primarily self-limiting, meaning they typically resolve on their own with time and proper care. To manage symptoms, individuals can rest, stay hydrated, and use over-the-counter medications to relieve discomfort. Influenza vaccines are also available to prevent the flu, emphasizing the importance of prevention through vaccination.
Sore throats are often a byproduct of viral infections, such as the common cold or influenza, where antibiotics have no effect. To address sore throats without antibiotics, consumers should stay hydrated or try non-prescription medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help alleviate throat pain and reduce fever. Lozenges are also an excellent alternative to providing relief from throat discomfort by soothing irritation.
Gastroenteritis, often referred to as the stomach flu, is usually caused by viruses such as rotavirus or norovirus. It does not respond to antibiotic treatment. The key to managing gastroenteritis is rehydration and maintaining electrolyte balance, which can be achieved through oral rehydration solutions. Most cases resolve within a few days without any specific antiviral medications.
Upper Respiratory Tract Infections
Many upper respiratory tract infections, including bronchitis and sinusitis, are often caused by viruses or are self-limited bacterial infections. Antibiotics are not typically needed for these conditions. Instead, symptom relief can be achieved through rest, hydration, and over-the-counter remedies for cough, congestion, and pain. It’s essential for healthcare providers to use diagnostic tests judiciously to determine when antibiotics are truly necessary.
Mild Skin Infections
Minor skin infections, such as small boils or impetigo, are usually caused by bacteria but can often be managed without antibiotics. Proper wound care, including cleaning the affected area and keeping it clean and dry, can help the body’s immune system clear the infection naturally. Topical antiseptics and ointments can aid in the healing process. However, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional for more severe or deep-seated skin infections.
Ear Infections (Otitis Media)
Otitis media, commonly known as an ear infection, is prevalent in children but can occur in adults as well. In many cases, especially in older children and adults, ear infections can resolve without antibiotics. Pain relief and close monitoring may be sufficient, as most ear infections are viral or caused by fluids trapped in the ear. Antibiotics should be reserved for severe or persistent cases or when the infection is bacterial in origin. (Contributed article)