Cedars-Sinai Magazine

A Dose of Facts - Counteracting Common Myths about Antibiotics

You’ve come down with some kind of bug and your first thought is, “I’m too busy to be sick. I need an antibiotic that will work fast.” If you don’t get the quick fix you hoped your doctor would provide, there’s probably a good reason. Read on as Cedars-Sinai primary care physicians delve into popular antibiotics myths to sort fact from fiction.

Myth #1: Regardless of what ails me, it can’t hurt to give antibiotics a try.

“It can hurt to use antibiotics inappropriately because there is always a risk of an allergic reaction and side effects, such as nausea and vomiting, as well as potential for kidney injury. By destroying healthy flora in the gut, antibiotics may lead to Clostridium difficile diarrhea, which could be life-threatening.”

Stephanie Tran, MD, Culver City


Myth #2: It’s OK to stop taking the antibiotic my doctor prescribed when I start feeling better.

“It’s very important to take antibiotics as directed and finish the entire course of treatment, even if you feel better. If the bacteria aren’t fully destroyed, you may get sick again. And the bacteria that remain can mutate and develop resistance to the antibiotic, so it may not work for you in the future.”

Benjamin N. Gilmore, MD Playa Vista


Myth #3: It is OK to use someone else’s leftover antibiotics.

“Never take medication unless it’s been prescribed for you. It’s a lot harder to help patients who already have taken antibiotics without being diagnosed. It can be difficult to tell which symptoms are from the actual illness and which are side effects from the medication. When I prescribe antibiotics, I always aim to minimize collateral damage.”

Isaac J. Adatto, MD Encino


Myth #4: There’s no point in taking antibiotics if I have a viral infection like the flu.

“You should always see your doctor if you have a high fever (over 101°F) and your symptoms linger for a prolonged period (longer than seven to 10 days), or you start to get better and then suddenly get worse. These can be signs that your symptoms might not be viral and that you have a bacterial infection.”

Adva Kornblit, MD Beverly Hills


Myth #5: If I’m careless with antibiotics usage, it doesn’t harm anyone else.

“Actually, misuse or overuse of antibiotics affects everyone by contributing to increased rates of antibiotic resistance. This has become a worldwide health threat. Judicious use of antibiotics is crucial so that they work when people at high risk really need them. There are very few new antibiotics in the pipeline for FDA approval, so we need the ones we have to remain effective.”

Caroline Goldzweig, MD, MSHS
Chief Medical Officer, Cedars-Sinai Medical Network

Helpful Tips

“Fifty percent of the time, my patients ask for a Z-Pak (azithromycin). But Los Angeles health officials recommend against it in some cases because it has been used so much that it may no longer be effective.”

Yalda Azarmehr, MD
Beverly Hills

“Ninety percent of upper respiratory tract infections, like colds, are viral. Focus on relieving symptoms.”

Shawn Chaikin, DO
Playa Vista

“A bacterial infection tends to be localized. Viral infections will have more diffuse symptoms—runny nose, cough, body aches, low-grade fever.”

Ara Thomassian, MD
North Hollywood

Do I Need Antibiotics?

Yes

For Bacterial Infections

Strep throat / Pneumonia / Urinary tract infections / Appendicitis / Meningitis / Tonsillitis

No

For Viral Infections

Colds and flu / Bronchitis / Most other respiratory infections / Some ear infections / Most coughs, sore throats and sinus infections

Note: The above cases have some exceptions, based on the patient’s condition and diagnosis.