Say No to Unnecessary Antibiotics: Watchful Waiting is Often the Best Medicine for Common Cool-Weather Illnesses

American Osteopathic Association offers recommendations to help patients decide whether to stay in bed or see the doctor

17 Nov, 2015, 09:05 ET from American Osteopathic Association

CHICAGO, Nov. 17, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As the cold and flu season gets underway, the American Osteopathic Association advises families that a visit to the doctor may not be necessary for many common illnesses, even if the patient is too sick for school or work.

The majority of cool weather upper respiratory illnesses—like colds, flu, bronchitis and sinusitis—are caused by viral infections. Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections and do not speed recovery from a virus. Many patients aren't aware of the distinction and are frustrated when physicians refuse to prescribe antibiotics for viruses.

"The misuse of antibiotics was pervasive for decades and it's challenging to convince patients that these medications can be harmful when they're prescribed for infections that aren't caused by bacteria," said Jennifer Caudle, DO, assistant professor of family medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in New Jersey. "As osteopathic physicians, it's our job to help patients understand when they need to come into the office because sometimes they are better off staying in bed than seeing me."

Watchful waiting is recommended for patients who are otherwise healthy, she noted, while those meeting the following criteria should get evaluated by a physician early in the illness.

See your doctor quickly if:

  • You have a weakened immune system
  • You have underlying medical problems such as heart or lung problems
  • You have been hospitalized with respiratory problems in the past
  • Your symptoms do not improve after 7-10 days
  • Your symptoms include any of these:
    • Fever higher than 100.5 degrees
    • Severe facial pain
    • Inability to swallow
    • Persistent vomiting

Many patients can wait a week before visiting their physician if the illness is manageable. "Most viral infections will improve on their own within seven days and there's really no need to come in if you're generally healthy and able to control the symptoms. Just don't let it go on for more than 10 days if there is no improvement," she explained.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created an infographic listing common conditions that are both bacterial and viral illnesses and indicating which can be treated by antibiotics.

In addition to avoiding unnecessary antibiotics, patients can help stop the spread of disease-causing bacteria by taking some practical precautions, according to Jennie Kwon, DO, a board-certified osteopathic internal medicine physician and senior clinical research fellow in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

You can help prevent infection by:

  • Staying current on vaccinations, including the influenza vaccination. The CDC provides a schedule of vaccination recommendations for all ages. 
  • Washing your hands. Soap and water is generally preferred, but an alcohol-based sanitizer can be used if hands are not visibly dirty.
  • Staying home when you are ill, to avoid spreading the infection to others.
  • Keeping a strong immune system with a balance of exercise, healthy eating and sleep.  

The American Osteopathic Association recently adopted policy calling for osteopathic physicians to adopt the principles of antibiotic stewardship, which is a commitment to prescribe antibiotics only when they are necessary to treat, and in some cases prevent, disease.

About the AOA

The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) represents more than 122,000 osteopathic physicians (DOs) and osteopathic medical students; promotes public health; encourages scientific research; serves as the primary certifying body for DOs; is the accrediting agency for osteopathic medical schools; and has federal authority to accredit hospitals and other health care facilities. To learn more, visit www.DoctorsThatDO.org.

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SOURCE American Osteopathic Association