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Medicines: Overuse


We are a greatly overmedicated society. Many people believe that there is a drug for every symptom. Some healthcare providers prescribe a drug during every office visit. These habits can convey to our young people that drugs are the answer to life's discomforts. More than $4 billion per year is spent on over-the-counter drugs for colds, and coughs—many of them unnecessary. Drugs for vomiting and diarrhea are largely ineffective, and these symptoms respond best to dietary changes. Remember that mild symptoms do not require any medication, and moderate symptoms often respond to home remedies. Drugs are not essential to recovery from most illnesses. Life is not a drug-deficient state.

Antibiotics Ineffective for Viral Infections

  • More than 90 percent of infections, including colds, coughs, croup, and diarrhea, are caused by viruses. Antibiotics kill bacteria. Unfortunately, antibiotics have no effect on viruses. They neither shorten the course of viral illnesses nor reduce symptoms.
  • Repeated use of antibiotics increases the likelihood of an allergic reaction. For example, 5% to 10% of adults report they are allergic to penicillins.
  • All antibiotics have additional side effects, such as wiping out the normal protective bacteria in the intestines and replacing them with unhealthy bacteria.
  • The body makes antibodies that can destroy viruses.
  • Use home remedies or nonprescription medicines for the symptoms of viral illnesses.

Nonprescription Medicines for Common Symptoms

  • When your child is sick, your goal is to make him as comfortable as possible. If your child is playing and sleeping normally, do not give nonprescription medicines.
  • Give medicines only for symptoms that are causing discomfort, disrupting sleep, or really bothering your child, such as coughing spasms.
  • Medicines for symptoms can only partially relieve those symptoms (for example, a fever will be lowered but not to a normal temperature). Medicines for symptoms do not shorten the course of an illness.
  • Nonprescription (over-the-counter) medicines can also have side effects.

Written by B.D. Schmitt, MD, author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-06-19
Last reviewed: 2010-06-02

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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