Most people who visit their doctors for complaints such as sore throat or acute bronchitis receive antibiotics - even though only a small percentage should, according to the results of two major national surveys.
Typically, these illnesses usually are caused by viruses, and antibiotics - which only treat bacterial infections - do nothing to help cure them.
Harvard University researchers analyzed the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and found that doctors prescribed antibiotics in 60% of visits for sore throats and 73%t of visits for acute bronchitis. They believe that the actual antibiotic prescribing rate should be 10% for sore throats and close to zero for acute bronchitis.
In other words, patients are continuing to request antibiotics for conditions they don't cure and doctors are continuing to prescribe them.
By taking antibiotics for viral infections, these people are unnecessarily putting something in their bodies that they don't need. Not only that, taking antibiotics exposes them to adverse drug reactions, allergies, yeast infections and nausea - all with no added benefit.
Ominously, the inappropriate use of antibiotics is also adding to the creation of drug-resistant bacteria, or ‘superbugs’ which are becoming increasingly difficult to treat and are evolving into a serious public health threat.
It is true that sore throats caused by strep bacteria should be treated with antibiotics. However, strep only causes sore throat 10% of the time. Acute bronchitis is almost always viral - and even when bacteria are involved, there is no need for antibiotics unless the patient develops pneumonia.
Out of 94 million visits to primary care physicians and emergency rooms for sore throats between 1997 and 2010, physicians prescribed antibiotics 60% of the time, a significant decrease from 73% reported by the same authors in 2001.
Similarly, out of 39 million visits to primary care physicians and emergency rooms for acute bronchitis between 1996 and 2010, there was a significant increase in the number of visits from 1.1 million in 1996 to 3.4 million in 2010. The Harvard University researchers also noted an increase in the antibiotic prescribing rate in emergency rooms, from 69% to 73% during the same 14-year period.
The truth is, most sore throats and cases of acute bronchitis can be treated with rest, fluids and using a humidifier. A cough, runny nose and hoarseness usually are signs that a sore throat is viral and not caused by strep. In some instances, pain relievers can help with soreness and pain.