These commonly prescribed drugs are only needed 33% of the time

What’s more, a full half of all antibiotics prescribed for acute respiratory infections—a whopping 34 million each year—may not have been needed.

Doctors prescribe unnecessary antibiotics for a variety of reasons. One top reason?

“Doctors are often worried about customer satisfaction,” says lead study author Katherine E. Fleming-Dutra, M.D. “Doctors perceive that their patients want antibiotics, sometimes leading clinicians to prescribe when they should not.”

Antibiotics are very effective at wiping out certain bacterial bugs, but they don’t help viral illnesses at all.

That makes them unnecessary for conditions like the common cold, viral sore throat, or acute bronchitis, says Dr. Fleming-Dutra.

What’s more, taking them when you don’t need to ups your odds of developing antibiotic resistance, which means that the drug might not be able to wipe out the bacterial bugs if you come down with an illness in the future.

Your move, then, is super simple: If your doctor is about to write you a script for an antibiotic, tell him or her that you only want to take the drug if it’s absolutely necessary—and ask if it is.

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