Respiratory Infections & Antibiotic Resistance: A Message for Patients

Published on January 7, 2016 by

senior cold suffererMaine Quality Counts is working closely with the ABIM Foundation, Consumer Reports and partners in both the Midcoast and Bangor regions to help prevent the overuse of certain medications, including antibiotics, through the Choosing Wisely® campaign. Recently, we published an article in the Coastal Journal reminding older health care consumers that most respiratory infections are caused by viruses and do not respond to treatment with antibiotics. That article, written by Mary DiMascio of Spectrum Generations, is shortened and adapted below. Please share this information with health care consumers and patients.


Feeling Under the Weather? Get Rest, Drink Fluids and Avoid Antibiotics

 At one time or another we’ve all succumbed to catching a cold, flu or some type of respiratory infection that puts us under the weather for a few days or even up to a full week. If you are 65 years or older the Centers for Disease Control  (CDC) recommends getting a seasonal flu vaccine as the best way to protect yourself and those around you.

 But if you do catch the flu or a cold or respiratory infection this winter, you may ask “do I need an antibiotic to make me feel better faster?”  

 If you have a sore throat, cough, or sinus pain, you might expect to take antibiotics.  However, as Consumer Reports indicates in their patient and consumer information at, antibiotics don’t help most respiratory infections, and they can even be harmful.  

Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses, and most respiratory infections including sinus infections, chest colds and sore throats are caused by viruses. Also, antibiotics have risks and can upset the body’s natural balance of good and bad bacteria and can cause nausea, vomiting and severe diarrhea, and other side effects.

 The new “superbugs” you may have heard about in the news are a result of the  overuse of antibiotics. These are bacteria that become resistant to antibiotics and can cause drug-resistant infections, even disability or death. The resistant bacteria – the superbugs — can also spread to family members and others.

 Need help relieving symptoms? 

 Get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. Try to ease pain and reduce fever with Acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic) and Ibuprofen (Advil and generic). For nasal discomfort try saline (salt water) drops or spray. To soothe a sore throat, gargle with salt water, drink warm beverages, or eat or drink something cool. And to ease a cough, breathe steam from a kettle or shower. For mild, short-term relief, try an over-the-counter cough medicine that has dextromethorphan.  See your health care provider/doctor if coughing lasts three days or more.

 So, for relief from flu, sinus infection, sore throat or colds, stick to the tried and true remedies mentioned above. Stay away from antibiotics. They probably won’t help and they may do harm.

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