Cough or cold? Don’t reach for the antibiotics

A winter cold or sore throat can often make you feel lousy. Many people turn to their doctor thinking an antibiotic is the answer. However, no amount of antibiotics will get rid of the common cold, which is caused by viruses.

Health leaders from the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in south Essex would like to advise residents that the best course of action for a winter cold is to get well at home simply by using items from a well-stocked medicine cabinet combined with rest and fluids.   Residents are also reminded that they can visit their local pharmacy with a common health problem that does not require being seen by a nurse or a doctor.  If any symptoms simply will not go away, people can also call 111 for free health advice 24/7. 

With European Antibiotic Awareness Day fast approaching (18 November), it is important to understand that taking an antibiotic unnecessarily can be dangerous to your health and can increase the risk of antibiotic resistance. When bacteria become resistant to medicine, the medicine won't work as well, or at all. 

Antibiotics are medicines for treating bacterial infections, but they need to be used appropriately. As the use of antibiotics has increased, they have started losing their effectiveness. This is because bacteria can adapt to find ways to survive the effect of the antibiotic.

When bacteria or microbes become antibiotic resistant, the medicine no longer works. That could pose a serious threat for healthcare.  Health professionals throughout Europe stress that urgent action is needed to address the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance.There are some illnesses for which antibiotics are appropriate, if used in the right person at the right time. When antibiotics are prescribed it is important that you always take them as directed and complete the course. This ensures the drug’s effectiveness – but also saves wastage.

Antibiotics are sometimes used for mild infections when they don’t need to be. All colds and most coughs, sinusitis, earache and sore throats are likely to get better without antibiotics.

Dr Kelvin Ng (GP Prescribing Lead for NHS Southend CCG) said: “People feel they will get relief with an antibiotic but that is not the right remedy for a common cold or cough. We are keen for people to understand how important it is that antibiotics are used wisely. For a seasonal illness, the best remedy is rest and taking plenty of fluids.

We can all take precautions to protect ourselves and our families from illness.

Good hygiene measures are essential in reducing the risk of the spread of bacteria and is especially important in households with vulnerable individuals such as patients with low immunity.”

If you do get a common ailment, there are tips for what you can do:

Self Care - A range of common illnesses and injuries can be treated at home simply by using items from a well-stocked medicine cabinet combined with rest. Winter always brings more coughs, colds and sore throats.  If you start to have symptoms of flu or a heavy cold, stay at home, keep warm and take plenty of non-alcoholic drinks. 

NHS 111 - The NHS 111 service is staffed by a team of fully trained advisers, supported by experienced nurses and paramedics. They will ask you questions to assess your symptoms, then give you the healthcare advice you need or direct you straightaway to the local service that can help you best. To access NHS 111, just ring 111. The service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Calls are free from landlines or mobile phones.

Pharmacist - You can visit your local pharmacy when you are suffering from a common health problem that does not require being seen by a nurse or a doctor.  Your pharmacist can provide advice on common illnesses and the best medicines to treat them. Pharmacies offer more than prescriptions.  They can advise on bugs and viruses, coughs and colds, aches and pains, tummy upsets and allergies.

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