5 Ways to Tell If You Need an Antibiotic
An inexact science
So physicians often use their spider senses—a combination of experience and science—when deciding to dole out an antibiotic.
Read more on why it can be hard to tell if you need an antibiotic here.
Here are five things most doctors take into consideration when making that decision.
If you have a fever, and flu is circulating in your community, you'll probably leave the doctor's office without an antibiotic. Next year, get a flu shot.
How long you've been sick
However, most of the time, long-standing symptoms are due to a virus, not bacteria, so it’s still not the best way to determine your need for antibiotics.
The color of your goo
This one is tricky, though; most greenish discharges are viral. Overall, mucous color is considered an unreliable indicator of the need for an antibiotic.
Your sore throat
Although it's red and looks terrible to you, your doctor may also look for white spots, which can be signs of bacteria, before considering an antibiotic.
Most colds start with a sore throat, but a sore throat without other cold symptoms (such as a runny nose) can be strep throat, which does require antibiotics to halt the dangerous bacteria.
To know for sure, you need a culture or rapid antigen test, which takes less than 20 minutes and can be done while you wait.
A physician can collect a sample of bodily gunk (whatever you can cough up or blow out of your nose), or take a throat swab. In general, a culture, in which bacteria are grown in the lab and tested, can take a day or two. Doctors often forgo the expense and time of a lab test if they think they can make a best-guess decision based on the above symptoms.