How Many are Too Many Antibiotics?

A common struggle now-a-days with parenting comes about when a child gets sick. In order to make them feel better, a parent may just go to the doctor and pressure them into giving a child a prescription, because they believe that it’s necessary. On the other hand, some parents believe that everything will work out just fine without medicine, which raises the question how many are too many antibiotics?

Even doctors can be on different pages when it comes to beliefs on antibiotics. Dr. Michael C. Lucien, a pediatrician at UC David Medical Center in Sacramento, California leans more toward that anti-antibiotics team. In an article on the UC David Medical Center website he wrote:

“Because of the overuse of antibiotics over the years, bacteria are increasingly becoming drug-resistant and much more difficult to manage. Some strains of bacteria are now resistant to almost every antibiotic now available.

“The Centers for Disease Control estimate that up to half of antibiotic prescriptions written in doctor’s offices are unnecessary. They are now urging physicians to change their prescribing habits.

“Some responsibility for the solution to the problem must rest with the general public. Greater understanding is key. The flu and most colds, as well as most coughs and sore throats, are due to viruses, which antibiotics are completely ineffective in fighting.”

Although Dr. Lucien makes some good points about the use of too many antibiotics, there are reasons that antibiotics are often more necessary than not. offers a list of reasons that one may need to get an antibiotic, things that won’t go away easily on their own:

  • “Fever. If you have fever, shakes, and chills, you could have a bacterial infection, but those are also common with a viral illness such as the flu, Dr. Esper says. Physicians will weigh your likelihood of having the flu—Is it circulating in your area at the moment? How many patients has he or she seen with the flu that day?—against the possibility of a bacterial infection. If you have a fever, and flu is circulating in your community, you’ll probably leave the doctor’s office without an antibiotic. Next year, get a flu shot.
  •  “Length of time you’ve been sick. Viral infections that hang around for a while can sometimes morph into a bigger problem, such as a sinus infection, and bacteria may join the party. So if your symptoms have been lingering for weeks, your likelihood of getting an antibiotic goes up.
  • “The color of your goo. Nasal secretions tend to be thin and clear during a viral infection, while green or yellow mucus can be a sign of bacteria. This one is tricky, though; most greenish discharges are viral. Overall, mucous color is considered an unreliable indicator of the need for an antibiotic.
  • “Your sore throat. Although it’s red and looks terrible to you, your doctor may also look for white spots, which can be signs of bacteria, before considering an antibiotic. Most colds start with a sore throat, but a sore throat without other cold symptoms (such as a runny nose) can be , which does require antibiotics to halt the dangerous bacteria. To know for sure, you need a culture or rapid antigen test, which takes less than 20 minutes and can be done while you wait.
  • “Testing. A lab test is the only ironclad way to determine if you truly need an antibiotic. A physician can collect a sample of bodily gunk (whatever you can cough up or blow out of your nose), or take a throat swab. In general, a culture, in which bacteria are grown in the lab and tested, can take a day or two. Doctors often forgo the expense and time of a lab test if they think they can make a best-guess decision based on the above symptoms.”

It’s apparent that the battle of whether or not antibiotics are good to use, or where the point of too many antibiotics crosses a line, is still up for determination for individual doctors. The safest thing to do, is put your trust in a doctor, and take it one illness at a time. There may not be a definite answer to the question at hand, but with a little more information, you and your doctor together can make the right choice.