Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them puts you at risk

GP top tips for preventing conditions most want to treat with antibiotics

Dr Mandy Selby is a GP at the Knoll Medical Practice in Orpington, Bromley looking after more than 8,500 patients.

As people across the Capital are being asked ‘do they really need antibiotics’, as part of the national Public Health England campaign, we asked Dr Selby her top tips on preventing conditions most want to treat with antibiotics.

Why do people who come to see you ask for antibiotics?

Patients ask for antibiotics because they hope it will speed up their recovery and help them feel better. Patients hope that taking antibiotics will help them to avoid missing work or school unnecessarily.

Do you notice any difference between say, the young and old – or do all kinds of people ask for antibiotics?

I see all ages asking for antibiotics.

Are there any downsides for patients who take antibiotics?

One of the main concerns is that we become resistant to antibiotics through overuse, and through patients not finishing the full course of antibiotics. You can find out more about the Antibiotic Awareness Campaign here. Antibiotics can also produce side effects such as nausea, indigestion and diarrhoea. Unfortunately, some people mistakenly believe that antibiotics will help them get over a cough, cold or flu, which is not the case. The best way to protect yourself from flu is to have the flu jab, and you can find out more about this by visiting the Stay Well This Winter website.

What should people do instead of taking antibiotics for the most common illnesses? 

Instead of taking antibiotics for common illnesses, patients are advised to get plenty of rest and to take over the counter medicines to help treat viruses. Remember, you can ask your pharmacist for advice in the first instance without needing to see your GP.

Any top tips for preventing the conditions most people want to treat with antibiotics? 

We have recently launched our ‘Self-care for life’ campaign which includes the following top tips:

  • Keep a well-stocked medicine cabinet and first aid kit to treat minor illnesses and injuries at home.
  • Speak to your local pharmacist for advice on minor ailments. No appointment needed.
  • Antibiotics will not help treat a virus.
  • Try to get enough sleep.
  • Aim for a healthy diet, plenty of fluids and regular exercise.
  • Do things you enjoy to help you relax.

In addition to this, I would recommend that patients get the flu jab. If you are 65 or older or you have a long-term condition flu can be serious, so these patients can have a free flu jab. The virus that causes flu changes every year, so it’s important to have the vaccine every year.

I recently diagnosed a child with a severe bacterial throat infection. I gave her Penicillin and she made a good recovery. If she had had antibiotics inappropriately in the past to treat viral infections, there would have been a possibility that the penicillin would not have worked due to resistance. That could have resulted in the patient being at risk of long term complications.