The flu can make you feel awful. Your body aches, your throat is swollen and your head throbs. You would do anything to relieve your symptoms. You might think that you can ease the pain by taking antibiotics. However, antibiotics won’t help with the flu.
What Are Antibiotics?
The discovery of antibiotics changed the world of medicine. The scientists who developed penicillin as a medication in 1945 won the Nobel Prize. Antibiotics have made life-threatening infections treatable and saved countless lives.
However, that doesn’t mean that they’re a cure-all. Antibiotics combat bacteria; they don’t kill all germs.
To understand how antibiotics work, it helps to know the differences between viruses and bacteria. Although both are invisible to the naked eye, bacteria are larger than viruses. Not all types of bacteria cause disease. For example, some types of bacteria live in the intestines and help humans digest food.
Viruses need a host to survive because they live by attaching to cells. They’re particular about the cells that they target. Some viruses even attack bacteria. Viruses cannot multiply without a host.
Both types of microbes can be infectious. Therefore, you might think that the type of medication that kills one will fight off the other. Antibiotics stop bacteria from multiplying. However, they’re not effective on virus infections.
How Can a Doctor Tell if My Flu is Caused by Bacteria or a Virus?
There are different strains of influenza, the virus that causes the flu. However, many people use the term “flu” incorrectly to describe other ailments.
Have you ever had the stomach flu? A sickness that’s characterized by nausea and vomiting is not usually influenza. If the main symptom is gastrointestinal, you may have a stomach virus or food poisoning. Some children develop digestive problems when they have influenza, but most adults do not.
Diarrhea can be caused by a virus or bacteria. So can sore throats, headaches and other influenza symptoms.
You can often tell that you have the flu by your symptoms. Some of the most common signs of flu include:
- High fever
- Intense aches in joints and muscles
- Pain around the eyes
- Severe fatigue or weakness
- Warm, red skin
- Watery eyes
- Strong headache
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Dry cough
Sometimes, it’s difficult to differentiate these symptoms from those of other illnesses. Strep throat, for example, may give you a sore throat, fatigue and headache. A respiratory infection can produce a cough and congestion.
But the flu typically comes on rapidly and is accompanied by a high fever. Colds usually start with the sniffles. Doctors can often diagnose the flu by your tell-tale symptoms.
The only way to guarantee that your sickness is definitely caused by bacteria is with a flu test. Some physicians say that they don’t need to use a test for diagnosis. However, understanding what you have can help you treat your illness with the appropriate medications.
Should I Take Antibiotics Just in Case?
Have you ever asked your doctor to prescribe antibiotics just in case you have a bacterial infection? Most experts recommend that you don’t take antibiotics unless you have confirmed that you have bacteria in your system.
If you go to the doctor with a sore throat, you may get a strep test to rule out that illness, which would require antibiotics. In some cases, doctors may prescribe antibiotics if they believe that you could have a bacterial infection. Once again, the best way to know is by being tested.
As a consumer, you can request the tests that you want. But a rapid flu test is only up to 70 percent accurate. Still, if you know that you have the flu, you may be able to get antiviral medication to reduce symptoms and shorten the length of the illness.
Antiviral drugs are not sold over the counter. They’re available via prescription and are usually only given to people who are at a high risk of developing complications, such as those with asthma or diabetes. The flu can be devastating for the elderly and babies as well.
Even if you’re in a high-risk category, antibiotics will not help with your flu symptoms. They could even make you resistant to bacteria. That means that when you do have a bacterial infection in the future, taking antibiotics may not fight it off.
Doctors should only dispense antibiotics when they’re strictly necessary. They should also provide clear instructions regarding their use. If you take antibiotics when you don’t need them or don’t take the full round of medication, you could increase your chances of becoming resistant to bacteria.
Do I Need to Go to the Doctor for the Flu?
If you have flu symptoms, you might wonder if you should visit the doctor. Since antibiotics won’t help, perhaps you can stay home and nurse your illness with DIY remedies. Many people, especially those with mild symptoms, choose to go this route.
However, going to the doctor will give you peace of mind. You can plug your symptoms into an internet search, but you may not feel confident diagnosing your illness. Trained physicians know what to look for and can recommend the best form of treatment.
A doctor can let you know whether it’s beneficial to take antiviral medication or test for influenza. Physicians can also give you advice for treating your symptoms in other ways.
You can also reduce your chances of contracting the flu by getting a flu shot every year. This vaccination changes every year based on the flu strains that are predicted to be problematic. Although it isn’t guaranteed to protect you from influenza, it can cut down on the likelihood that you’ll come down with the sickness. Practicing good hygiene also helps you avoid getting sick.
If you do get the flu, you should avoid going to work or exposing other people to your germs. Staying home can help you get the rest that you need to fight off the illness.
You can try home remedies to soothe symptoms. Warm drinks can make a sore throat feel better. Over-the-counter pain relievers can ease aches. Tepid baths may lower your fever.
Whether you need a flu shot or have symptoms of the illness, check out Integra Urgent Care. If you’re concerned about leaving your house while you’re sick, you can take advantage of our video visits or check in ahead of time so that you don’t have to wait in the lobby.