Antibiotics such as Cipro (ciprofloxacin) and Amoxil (amoxicillin) are prescribed to treat a staggering range of different medical conditions, but their pervasive use could be reducing their efficacy in the long-term. The more these drugs are used, the greater the risk of antibiotic-resistant strains, such as MRSA, developing.
A report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier in 2017 suggests up to one-third of antibiotics prescribed by doctors are unnecessary. It emphasized the importance of these drugs in treating patients at risk of severe infections, for example, those undergoing surgery, cancer chemotherapy, dialysis for end-stage renal disease, treatment of inflammatory conditions, and organ transplants.
However, the report also highlighted the issues associated with over-prescription of antibiotics, notably the development of antibiotic resistance. This is when the bacteria the antibiotic is used to treat adapts to develop new resistance to the drug. This resistant bacteria can then be spread among other people and cause a new antibiotic-resistant infection. Other risks associated with antibiotics include drug allergies, interactions and in some cases increased the risk to other infections.
Earlier this month, the United Nations Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance conference was told by the UK's chief medical officer Sally Davies that antimicrobial resistance could be disastrous for the practice of medicine in the future. "Not to be able to effectively treat infections means that cesarean sections, hip replacements, modern surgery, is risky. Modern cancer treatment is risky and transplant medicine becomes a thing of the past," she warned
Consumer Reports and the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation highlighted five medical conditions where antibiotics are often prescribed but should be used with caution (if at all) as part of their Choosing Wisely Campaign.
1. Respiratory Infections
Patients often request antibiotics for respiratory infections, which are often caused by viruses rather than antibiotics. In many cases, they can be treated by drinking plenty of fluids, salt water gargles and over-the-counter drugs such as Advil (ibuprofen).
2. Ear Infections
Ear infections often clear up within a few days and often simple over-the-counter pain relief - for example, Tylenol (acetaminophen) - is all that is required. However, for younger children and babies it is important to consult with a physician.
3. Eye Infections
Eye infections, for example, pinkeye, are usually caused by either viruses or allergic reactions. Antibiotics may be advisable for those with particularly weak immune systems or if the condition does not clear up, but in many cases, antihistamine drops may be all that is required.
4. UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections)
Antibiotics are regularly prescribed by doctors when bacteria is found in a urine test. However, the presence of bacteria is not a sure sign antibiotics are required. Unless there are symptoms of a UTI, such as pain or a burning sensation when urinating, antibiotics may not be required.
5. Skin Infections
Conditions such as eczema (atopic dermatitis) can be irritating, but antibiotics do not help with the symptoms of these conditions. In many cases, moisturizing regularly and medicated creams and ointments, such as topical corticosteroids may be all that is required.
If you are concerned about being prescribed antibiotics make sure you speak to your physician about alternative treatments and medicines. While these conditions do not generally require antibiotics, each patient is different and there will be some cases where antibiotics are an important part of treatment.