The Blog of Minnesota Community Acupuncture

A Matter of Timing: When to use Antibiotics and When to use Acupuncture

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Thankfully, we live in the Antibiotic Era.  This era is generally agreed to have started in 1910 when Paul Ehlrich and his team of scientists discovered a drug that could effectively treat the then rampant syphilis.  His drug, salvarsan, enjoyed the status of being the most frequently prescribed drug until its replacement by penicillin in the 1940s.  Antibiotics have certainly saved countless lives, and have contributed to the control of infectious diseases which have plagued humanity through most of its existence.

Unfortunately, new research shows that in America we are using antibiotics when they are not appropriate or even useful.  These powerful medicines need to be appropriately used and prescribed, otherwise we face the very real and serious consequence of creating antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.  Every year in the United States 63,000 people die from antibiotic resistant bacteria.  One major cause of these resistant strains is over-consumption of antibiotics.  (Aminov 2010)

According to a new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association, it is appropriate to prescribe antibiotics to 10 % of adults with sore throat.  This is because only 10 % of sore throats statistically tend to be caused by strep throat, which is a bacteria.  The other 90 percent (with few exceptions) are viral.  Despite this fact, between 1997 and 2010, physicians in the U.S. prescribed antibiotics to 60 % of their patients who came in with sore throat. (Barnet and Linder 2014)  The same study shows that the right antibiotics prescribing rate for people with acute bronchitis according to current guidelines is zero percent.  Despite multiple studies showing that antibiotics don’t help people get over a cough, doctors prescribe them around 70 percent of the time.

Luckily there are treatment options other than antibiotics for the common viral sore throat or cough!  Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine have addressed these very common and generally seasonal maladies for thousands of years.  Acupuncture points on the lung channel can benefit both sore throat and bronchitis symptoms, as the lung channel not only corresponds to the lung organs but also rules the throat.  Chinese herbal medicine also addresses viral sore throats and cough.

Dr. Wu Ju Tong in 1798 published his text Systematic Differentiation of Warm Diseases, which outlined numerous strategies for treating many infectious viral and bacterial epidemics of the time.  Two very popular formulas still used from his manual today to great affect are Yin Qiao Wan and Sang Ju Yin Wan.  Both may be appropriate to treat sore throat or cough depending on the individual presentation of the illness.  Always consult with your acupuncturist before beginning to take any Chinese herbal prescription.

In the wake of these findings the CDC has launched the following website to help patients know when antibiotics may or may not be necessary:  http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/

These studies show that we need to shift our view of when to use antibiotics.  As patients it’s our responsibility to not request or use antibiotics when they aren’t appropriate, and when they are appropriate it’s imperative we follow our physician’s directions.  Taking less than the prescribed course of antibiotics can also lead to creating resistant bacteria!  Also, considering the above statistics, we as patient’s need to take responsibility and really talk to our physician’s when antibiotics are offered as a potential treatment, to make sure the timing is right.


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