Should You Be Fighting Your Symptoms with Antibiotics?

What Do Your Symptoms Mean?

Have you ever heard people say they’re getting the flu when they have a stomach bug? How about a stuffy nose or sore throat just being allergies?

We try to diagnose ourselves all the time. That’s how sites like WebMD got so popular. And trying to figure out what’s wrong is a good thing, but sometimes it’s really hard to know what our bodies’ symptoms are trying to tell us.

And believe it or not, knowing if you have a bacterial infection, a cold, or the flu can make a big difference.

When you have a bacterial infection, your doctor gives you an antibiotic. Antibiotics only cure infections caused by bacteria, like:

  • Strep throat
  • Staph infection
  • Sinus infections
  • Some pneumonia
  • Some ear infections

Antibiotics can make you or your kids feel better fast when they’re taken for those things. But if you take antibiotics for infections they can’t treat, like ones caused by viruses, bacteria can build up antibiotic resistance.

When you take antibiotics and don’t have an infection from bacteria, it gives the bacteria the chance to learn from the antibiotic, and then it can change to survive and grow, which means next time you really need an antibiotic, it might not work as well. This is bacteria becoming antibiotic resistant.

Some of the illnesses antibiotics can’t cure are:

  • Colds
  • Flu
  • Most coughs and bronchitis
  • Sore throat not caused by strep
  • Runny nose

Unfortunately, a bacterial infection in your lungs or strep throat can have a lot of the same symptoms as the flu. Your doctor can tell whether you have a bacterial or viral infection by doing a quick test, like a throat swab.

If you’re trying to figure out if you need to go to the doctor because you’re not sure if you have more than a common cold, though, this chart can help:

What Your Symptoms Mean

If you’re prescribed an antibiotic, make sure you take it exactly how your doctor told you to. Don’t stop taking it early, even if you feel better. You need to kill all of the bacteria to keep from getting sick again.

If you do have a viral infection, like a cold or the flu, these are things you can try to feel better:

  • Get lots of rest.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Ask your doctor or pharmacist which pain relievers are right for your child’s age and how much you should give him or her.
  • Try over-the-counter cold or cough medicine (check if it’s OK for kids).

And if you’re still not sure, don’t forget that Health Alliance members can call the Anytime Nurse Line 24/7 for help figuring out what you might have and if you should visit the doctor.

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