No one would dispute the miracles of modern medicine: surgeries performed with minimal incisions, organ transplants, limb reattachments, advances in chemotherapy, and so many lives saved by antibiotics. Just 100 years ago, 25 percent of all deaths were due to bacterial infection alone. The discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1945 is something for which we should all be grateful.
Yet, all good things can become harmful if overused or abused, and antibiotics are no different. Dr. Fleming himself warned, decades ago, that overuse would create antibiotic resistance and the development of “superbugs.”
Reputable scientific research confirms the theory that antibiotics are needlessly prescribed eight out of 10 times. Antibiotics found in our food chain have also become a serious concern. This is an example of too much of a good thing, creating antibiotic resistance with dangerous ramifications. Some reports suggest that antibiotic resistance will kill up to 300 million people by 2050.
Why do we abuse something we need and value so highly?
Life is crazy, time is precious, and we don’t always feel that we are able to improve our own environment in order to help boost natural immunity. Learning about prevention and natural approaches to treat symptoms sounds daunting or merely too time consuming when compared with the ease of procuring a prescription.
“Doc, just give us a pill, I always get better with a Z-Pak” Does this sound familiar? How about: “I’m time pressured, I can’t let the illness simply take its natural course”, or even, “The insurance covers it, so let’s go ahead.” Presumably, the doctor always knows best, right? A recent study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass, showed that 84 percent of antibiotic prescriptions for sore throats and nearly 100 percent for acute bronchitis were unnecessary and not recommended by current guidelines.
As a pediatrician, overuse of antibiotics is of particular concern, as so many children experience ongoing nasal issues through childhood and often become antibiotic dependent. During my clinical practice, I maintained the position that if it is dirty, the first step is to clean it. If there is a wound to the knee clean it! If there is a dirty nose wash it! Most of the time this allows the body to heal itself.
Not every sinus, ear, or respiratory infection requires antibiotic treatment. With a little bit of patience and education, the body will often heal itself with nasal cleansing. Nasal irrigation will clean the filter, removing debris, infectious particles, and allergens without causing harm.
The insanity is this: sinusitis is the diagnosis for 20 percent of all antibiotics prescriptions written for adults. Approximately 80 percent of clinical diagnoses for sinusitis will be prescribed an antibiotic. But 80 percent of these diagnoses will resolve naturally by simply using nasal irrigation with a buffered hypertonic saline solution.
Reputable medical journals cite numerous studies that support the existence of antibiotics overuse. One such study involved adults with sinusitis. Study participants were treated with either a 10-day course of amoxicillin or a placebo. Both groups fared about the same in regard to their recovery. The study concluded that Amoxicillin may be no better than a placebo in improving symptoms of sinusitis.
Nasal saline irrigation is an ancient, time-tested technique. In the last few decades, many quality-controlled trials have shown beneficial results in the improvement and alleviation of nasal symptoms with nasal saline irrigation. Highly buffered hypertonic salt mix is the most effective and soothing in delivery. Comfort in the delivery system is key to compliance.
Washing the nose just makes sense, save the antibiotics for when they are really needed. If it’s dirty, clean it first.
By Hana R. Solomon, MD