When Are Antibiotics Needed?

Whenever we get sick, we often wonder if we might need an antibiotic to help us feel better and speed along the recovery process. In cases where the illness is caused by a bacterial infection, the answer to that question is almost always yes.

Some of the most common types of bacterial infections that an individual can develop include strep throat, pneumonia, sinus infections, skin infections, urinary tract infections, and even blood poisoning. In order to treat these types of infections, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family doctor in Vancouver, will usually prescribe a 7 to 10 day course of antibiotics to the patient – sometimes longer depending on the severity. If these types of infections are left untreated, the risk of the bacterial infection worsening will increase exponentially. The bacteria can even spread to other parts of the body, which then makes the infection much more difficult to treat.

Signs and symptoms you might experience as a result of a bacterial infection include flu-like symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, fever and chills, and diarrhea. In cases where the infections are of the respiratory tract (i.e. chest or sinuses), you may also notice that your mucus is discoloured – usually appearing dark or bright green. If the infection is of the urinary tract, you may develop lower abdominal or back pain, as well as experience painful urination. Certain medical imaging tests, such as X-rays or CT scans, can oftentimes determine whether an infection is present, as can throat swabs and blood tests.

Viral infections can also cause symptoms similar to bacterial infections. However, there is one major difference between viral and bacterial infections. While bacterial infections need to be treated with antibiotics, viral infections do not.

One of the most common types of viral infections is the common cold, with symptoms such as headaches, sore throat, coughing, runny nose, nasal congestion, etc. Unfortunately the only way to treat viral infections is to let nature take its course. However, there are certain remedies that Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends trying to relieve symptoms. Over-the-counter medications such as Advil and Tylenol can help to reduce pain and fever, while nasal decongestants can relieve congestion. If using a nasal decongestant, it is important to follow the directions as suggested on the label. Overuse of some nasal decongestant sprays can actually lead to a condition known as rebound congestion.

If your doctor prescribes antibiotics for a bacterial infection, you should always ensure that you never miss a dose and take the medication until it is finished (or as otherwise suggested by your family physician.) Certain antibiotics can cause side effects such as stomach upset and/or diarrhea. Taking a probiotic (or by eating yogurt) can help to relieve these symptoms. If the symptoms become severe or don’t go away, you will want to let your physician known as soon as possible.