It happens all the time, we have a patient requesting antibiotics for a runny nose and sore throat that has afflicted them for 2-5 days. Generally speaking, most sore throats and runny noses are caused by a viral infection, although there are a few exceptions. Antibiotics for viral infections will not help get rid of the virus but can actually make a cold worse by creating an environment that is more hospitable to viruses. The body harbors bacteria naturally that helps to maintain health as well. Without this bacteria people become more susceptible to other ailments, such as diarrhea and yeast infections.
Most antibiotics work by breaking down the cell wall of the bacterial cell. Viral cells, however do not have a cell wall so this mechanism is not effective to rid the body of a viral infection. This would be like trying to catch a wasp in a fishing net. The weapon doesn’t match the opponent.
What an antibiotic will do is break down the cell walls of the bad and even the good bacteria in the body. This could increase the growth of yeast cells and decrease the effectiveness of the body’s mechanism of digestion.
Overuse of antibiotics can also make bacteria resistant to future use. This means that when a body does need to decrease the bacteria within, an antibiotic is no longer effective.
Often people mistakenly believe that green mucous is an indication that antibiotics are required. According to Centers for Disease Control, this is not always true as it can indicate that “good bacteria” is starting to grow back.
The common cold is most often accompanied by stuffy and/or runny nose, sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, mild headache, and mild body aches. The common cold will generally be resolved on its own in 10 days.
A bacterial infection is usually marked with an elevated temperature, will persist after 2 weeks, and symptoms are not relieved with over the counter medications. Bacterial infections should be treated with antibiotics.
See your health care provider if your ailment mirrors the description of a bacterial infection. Always get plenty of rest and fluids for both bacterial and viral symptoms.