Why antibiotics aren't the answer for winter coughs and colds

editorial image

A lot of people are still battling winter coughs and colds, which means a lot of patients are wanting antibiotics to treat their illness.

While that might be what many patients want, the truth is that it could actually be doing those patients a serious disservice.

Not only do antibiotics have no impact on certain infections, their overuse can lead to resistance, meaning that antibiotics could be ineffective at the times when they are most needed.

Antibiotics are one of the most important medical breakthroughs of all time, providing GPs and other clinicians with a powerful means of killing off many of the bugs that can make us poorly.

As well as treating infections, they can be used to help vulnerable patients from picking up bugs that could have serious consequences for their health.

Antibiotics work by disrupting the processes that bacteria need to survive, such as preventing the processes that bacteria use to produce new cells and reproduce.

They can be administered in a number of ways, including tablets, pills and medicines, topical treatments, and via intravenous injection.

Overuse of antibiotics has been blamed for the development of the so-called “superbugs” which have mutated to be resistant, including some headline grabbing examples including Clostridium difficile and MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus).

In many parts of the world, including the UK, strains of bacteria have been identified as showing resistance to an antibiotic often considered to be our ‘last resort’ treatment of choice.

Use of antibiotics when they are not needed can also lead to unnecessary side effects. Antibiotics can cause gastro-intestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, as well as sensitivity reactions such as rashes.

Try not to be offended or disappointed if your GP does not always prescribe antibiotics. They are only trying doing what’s best for you and everybody else.

This column is written by Dr. Alexandra Phelan, an NHS GP and Online Doctor for Pharmacy2U. Manage your repeat prescriptions by going to www.pharmacy2u.co.uk/NHS