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Woman sneezing into tissue

Why we don't always prescribe antibiotics

You've been sick for days–sniffling, coughing, and filling your wastebasket with crumpled tissues. You finally decide to visit the IU Health Center for help. But when you get here, all you get is sympathy.

Why don't we prescribe antibiotics when you're sick? It's because they're completely ineffective against viral infections like colds and flu.

How We Decide to Prescribe Antibiotics

When you come to the Health Center, we evaluate your symptoms and ask a lot of questions about how long you have been ill. Our doctors can tell when you have a virus, like the common cold, or a bacterial infection, like strep throat. If we suspect a bacterial infection, we can confirm it with a test at our on-site lab. If it is a bacterial infection, you'll get a prescription for antibiotics. If not, all you can do is wait for your body to fight off the virus.

Your doctor genuinely wants you to feel better. Frequently, doctors prescribe antibiotics even when they don't believe they're medically necessary. It feels better to do something instead of nothing.

But taking anitibiotics for a viral infection isn't just unnecessary. It's dangerous. It won't cure the infection, it won't keep other people from catching it, it won't relieve your symptoms. And it can cause dangerous side effects.

Using unnecessary antibiotics is bad for everybody. It helps foster new strains of drug-resistant bacteria that can't be killed.

Is It a Cold or Bacterial Infection?

Here are a few guidelines to judge whether your cold is something more serious.

  • You feel short of breath.
  • You have a fever above 102 degrees (38.9 degrees Celsius).
  • You have a sore throat and headache, but no runny nose or cough.
  • You have been sick between 10-14 days and are not getting better.
If you have any of those symptoms, schedule an appointment at the IU Health Center Medical Clinic.