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How Do I Know if I Need Antibiotics for a Nasal Infection?

It's wise to see your doctor if a nasal infection is accompanied by fever and green or yellow mucus.
Medical professionals now err on the side of prescribing antibiotics only when absolutely necessary.
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  • Written By: Anna T.
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2014
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The only way for you to be 100 percent sure that you need antibiotics for a nasal infection is by asking your doctor. If you have a nasal infection, a doctor can perform a lab test with a sample collected from your throat or sinus secretions. The test can determine the presence of bacteria in your body, which indicates the need for antibiotics. If it is determined that your nasal infection is the result of a virus rather than bacteria, you most likely do not need antibiotics. Infections that are bacterial in nature tend to respond well to antibiotics, whereas antibiotics are normally useless against most viruses.

In many cases, doctors do not perform lab tests to determine if antibiotics for a nasal infection are needed. You may find that the majority of doctors make the decision as to whether or not you need antibiotics based on your symptoms. If you are running a fever, have been sick for more than a few weeks, and the color of your mucus is green or yellow, there is a good chance you will leave the doctor's office with a prescription for antibiotics. Another symptom that may factor into whether you need antibiotics for a nasal infection is a sore throat. If you have a sore throat and there are white spots on your tonsils, you might have strep throat, which normally requires antibiotics for successful treatment.

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Even though doctors are trained to understand when antibiotics are needed and when they are not, errors are still occasionally made. The symptoms associated with both bacterial and viral infections tend to be similar, and for this reason antibiotics are occasionally prescribed when they are not needed. This could be dangerous because antibiotics kill off the good bacteria along with the bad, and the good bacteria in your body is there to help fight off bad bacteria. Excessive use of the same antibiotic over time when it isn't needed might additionally cause bacteria to develop inside your body that is resistant to that particular antibiotic.

In spite of the risks associated with taking antibiotics when you don't need them, you should most likely check with your doctor if you think you may need antibiotics for a nasal infection. Any time a nasal or sinus infection has lingered for weeks without improvement, it should be reported to a doctor. Even if you do not need antibiotics for a nasal infection, there might be other medications your doctor can prescribe to help you feel better. If you are prescribed antibiotics and want to be sure you actually need them, you can ask your doctor to perform a lab test to look for signs of bacteria if he hasn't already done so.

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