Antibiotics: When You Need Them, When You Don’t

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 8:21 AM comments (0)

AntibioticsSome of the most common illnesses that send us to the doctor’s office can be easily treated with medications; however, there isn’t an easy, one-stop solution for every sniffle, cough or infection.

While antibiotics are one of the most frequently prescribed medications for a variety of conditions, they are not a cure-all for everything. In fact, for many common illnesses caused by viruses (flu, colds and sore throats), antibiotics are not recommended. So when do you know if an antibiotic will help relieve symptoms?

Dirk Killelea, Manager of the NorthShore Evanston Hospital Pharmacy, offers his insight on antibiotics, including when you should take them and when you shouldn’t:

  • Antibiotics are most effective in the treatment of illnesses caused by bacteria, which can include sinus infections and strep throat. They should not be prescribed or taken for viral infections such as the common cold, as this can lead to the build-up of a tolerance, also called resistance, within some forms of bacteria and will not improve symptoms.  This resistance makes it harder to treat bacterial infections later.
  • Follow prescription instructions. Make sure you take the antibiotic the prescribed number of times per day. It is also very important to take an antibiotic for the duration of the prescription time, even if you are feeling better. Stopping treatment too soon may not allow sufficient time to get the bacteria out of your system.   Additionally, not finishing the full course of an antibiotic prescription can lead to increased resistance among bacteria. If you are told by your physician to stop an antibiotic before it has finished, however, always dispose of them properly.
  • Don’t share medications. Even if you’re certain you have a sinus infection and someone in your family had a similar infection recently, don’t use their antibiotics. What you are experiencing may not be the same infection, or even an infection that requires treatment.  This can cause more problems related to bacterial resistance.
  • Ask Questions.  Let your pharmacist or physician know any concerns or questions you have before taking antibiotics.  If you have read information from an online source about an antibiotic, verify any questions with a healthcare professional. Make sure to tell him or her what over-the-counter medications you use as well as any new prescriptions that you may have started recently.
  • Do your part.  If you are feeling sick and are prescribed antibiotics, make sure to get plenty of rest, keep drinking fluids and eat a balanced diet. Antibiotics can only do so much, it’s up to you to keep yourself rested and help the medicine do its job.

How frequently do you take antibiotics?

Is It a Cold or a Sinus Infection?

Friday, June 01, 2012 8:31 AM comments (0)

Cold-SinusAt one time or another—and maybe even multiple times each year—we’ve all had the symptoms of a cold. The familiar prolonged running nose and sniffling, and the sinus pressure that comes along with it. How do you know if it’s just a common cold or a sinus infection?

Ilana Seligman, MD, Pediatric Otolaryngologist at NorthShore breaks down the differences between a cold and a sinus infection. She also recommends when you should see your doctor if symptoms persist:

Common Cold
There is no real way to prevent getting a cold. Instead, it’s recommended to wash your hands frequently, and not to share cups and toothbrushes. If you do have a cold, there isn’t much a doctor can do, since prescribing antibiotics is not recommended. Most colds typically last 7-10 days, and common symptoms include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Fever
  • Sore throat or cough
  • Clear or colored nasal discharge


Sinus Infection
A sinus infection is an infection or inflammation of the lining of the sinus cavities. Very few colds—only 5-10%—will turn into sinus infections. Common signs your cold is a sinus infection include:

  • Continued nasal congestion after 10 days
  • Significant headaches, teeth or facial pain
  • High fever or persistent drainage


If you experience these symptoms it may be a sinus infection, and time to consult your physician. Common treatment often includes prescribing antibiotics.

Do you know when you have a cold versus a sinus infection? What home remedies to you defer to when you have a cold?

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