Cold and flu season is here and people are looking for ways to alleviate symptoms and get well faster. Many of them are asking their docs for antibiotics—despite the fact that only one in 10 sore throats is caused by bacteria (strep), and acute bronchitis is almost always viral, which antibiotics can’t touch. The same goes for sinus infections. Although studies show that antibiotics work no better than placebo, one in five antibiotics is prescribed for sinusitis.
Unfortunately, this is not sinking in. Harvard researchers analyzed the prescribing trends of thousands of physicians and found that antibiotics were given for 60 percent of sore throats and 73 percent of acute bronchitis cases. This is an outrage.
The fact that antibiotics simply don’t work for cold and flu symptoms is one thing. But the bigger danger of antibiotics—and the one everyone should be acutely aware of—is the alarming rise in drug-resistant bacteria, which now infect 2 million Americans and kill 23,000 annually.
Folks, if nausea, diarrhea, yeast overgrowth, and other adverse drug effects aren’t enough to dissuade you from asking for antibiotics “just in case,” the emergence of deadly superbugs that threaten us all should.
If Not Antibiotics, Then What?
A diehard cynic will tell you that if you treat a cold or flu aggressively, it’ll be gone in a week; do nothing, and it’ll clear up in seven days. In reality, there is much you can do to alleviate your suffering and hasten your recovery—but taking a course of antibiotics isn’t one of them.
The best defense is a good offense, so—starting today—take steps to bolster your immune system.
Give Your Immune System a Boost
Sounds cliché but one of the most important things to “do” when you’re sick is to rest. Studies have shown that people who are consistently deprived of sleep have impaired immune function, and rest is one of the best therapies for a cold or flu. During sleep, potent immune-enhancing compounds are released and many immune functions shift into high gear. So if you’ve got a bug, crawl under the covers with a cup of warm tea or a bowl of chicken soup and let nature do the rest.
Other lifestyle changes that enhance immune function include a healthy diet, regular exercise, and stress reduction. Make a point to practice scrupulous hygiene, washing your hands often, especially if you’re around sick people, and keeping germs at bay with nasal irrigation.
There are also plenty of immune boosting supplements you can add to your winter arsenal. Vitamins C and D, zinc, and echinacea are tried-and-true favorites, but lesser known natural cold and flu remedies like Pycnogenol and elderberry have demonstrated success as well.
Avoid Antibiotics Unless…
Again, resist running to the doctor at the first sign of a cold or flu to ask for antibiotics. In most cases, natural therapies will keep all but minimal discomfort at bay. That said, some colds can lead to serious bacterial infections, and aggressive cases of influenza can be fatal. If your symptoms are severe or lingering, consult your physician.
If You Must Take Antibiotics
If antibiotics are truly warranted, be sure to complete the entire course as stopping the drugs in mid-course contributes to the antibiotic-resistant bacteria we discussed above. Be aware that antibiotics destroy both beneficial bacteria that inhabit your gastrointestinal tract as well as harmful invaders.
When these protective bacteria are wiped out, pathogenic bacteria and other organisms move in. This can cause diarrhea, as well as yeast overgrowth in the vagina and intestines. If you’ve been prescribed an antibiotic, replace the beneficial bacteria by taking a quality probiotic each day (at least two or three hours before or after you take your antibiotic) and incorporating yogurt containing live L. acidophilus and other bacterial cultures daily.