According to a recent study, ear infections, sore throats, and sinus infections generate nearly 44 million antibiotic prescriptions a year. 52 percent of these patients are prescribed the wrong antibiotic. On top of that, earlier this year findings discovered that one out of three people who get antibiotics don’t even need them. This is a problem.
Many Americans expect an antibiotic prescription after a visit to the doctor. It’s become routine, and for the most part we hardly question it — why should we? After all, doctors know more than we do right? Unsurprisingly, one of the many reasons why they’d prescribe wrong prescriptions is due to patient demand.
"We have seen studies that show doctor prescribing is influenced by those types of patient pressures and expectations for receiving antibiotics,” Dr. David Hyun, an infections disease specialist at the Pew Charitable Trusts, said to NBC News. “…They may say something along the lines of ‘I got a Z-pack last time and I got better right away.’”
As Plus previously reported, while the purpose of antibiotics was to kill infections, they now exist everywhere — livestock, food, over the counter meds. As a result, our body has built immune pathogens (“superbugs”) that have become resistant to antibiotics. By 2050, it’s predicted that annual health care costs would rise 25 percent in low-income countries, 15 percent in middle-income countries, and 6 percent in high-income countries, equaling to $1 trillion per year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have already said that these superbugs kill 23,000 a year, and that over 2 million people are infected by drug-resistant germs every year!
The study was led by Pew, the CDC, and the University of Utah (among others). While they say it’s appropriate to prescribe antibiotics for some ear infections, sore throats, and sinus infections, it’s become routine to prescribe it every time.
If you have strep throat, a middle ear infection with pus oozing out, or a lingering sinus infection, antibiotics may help, doctors said. The problem is most sore throats and ear infections are caused by viruses; antibiotics are only meant to treat bacterial infections. It's known that most patients are treated with the wrong kind of antibiotic, reports NBC News. Researchers say when one is called for, it should be a basic one like amoxicillin. But that’s not what happens.
"The most commonly prescribed non-first-line antibiotics for sinus infections, middle ear infections and pharyngitis were macrolides (such as azithromycin), a class of broad-spectrum antibiotics (which target a wide range of bacterial pathogens) frequently prescribed in outpatient settings," the research team said. "However, macrolides are not recommended for sinus or middle ear infections and are recommended for pharyngitis only for patients with an allergy to the penicillin class of antibiotics."
Perhaps one reason why patients get prescribed wrong antibiotics, according to Hyun, is the appeal of stronger ones like Azithromycin being able to work faster than basic amoxicillin. It gives the illusion that one might flush out the bacteria quickly without being on meds for long periods of time, but unfortunately the body doesn’t see it that way.
It’s important, Hyun said, that doctors inform their patients why they need particular kinds of antibiotics. Patients need to ask if an antibiotic is really needed, and if so, is it the correct kind of antibiotic?