THE cold and flu season is looming and GP surgeries will see the usual queues of patients looking for relief with an antibiotic.
We know that antibiotics are over-used and tens of thousands of patients are taking them needlessly. Antibiotics do not work against viruses.
One group of doctors looked at how they might reduce their patients' use of antibiotics after they complained of a respiratory tract infection.
These are any infections of the sinuses, throat, airways and lungs. The most widespread is the common cold.
The doctors at the Summerhill Medical Centre, Summerhill, Co Meath, who were part of a GP training scheme in Trinity College, pointed out that the majority of respiratory tract infections are self-limiting, and do not require antibiotic treatment.
One of the suggestions for doctors is to give their patients a delayed prescription for antibiotics – one they would only fill if they were not getting better.
They decided to test the delayed prescription on one set of patients and give the same to another group.
However, the second group were also given an information leaflet.
Among the patients who received the delayed prescription, only 72pc took antibiotics, but it fell to 43pc for those who also got the information leaflet.
"The key conclusion of this study is that delayed prescriptions should be issued with an appropriate information sheet," they wrote in the 'Irish Medical Journal'.
The effect was most evident among fee-paying patients, who were less likely to use the antibiotic in both groups.
The simply designed practice information sheet set out when it was appropriate to use an antibiotic and what steps should be taken to self-treat an uncomplicated infection.
The treatment for symptoms includes:
* Runny nose, blocked nose or congestion – take nasal decongestant spray, oral decongestant syrup or tablets.
Try menthol and eucalyptus oil preparations.
* Sore throat – try honey and lemon or anaesthetic lozenges.
Take paracetamol or ibuprofen.
* Cough in an adult – Antitussive for dry cough to stop you coughing.
Mucolytic or expectorant for chesty cough to help break up mucus.
* Fever, pain, joint or muscle aches – paracetamol or ibuprofen.
* Cough in a child – discuss with your doctor or pharmacist.
* Most common infections get better by themselves – without antibiotics.
* Taking antibiotics when you don't need them can put your health, and the health of your family, at risk.
* If your doctor decides that you need an antibiotic, be sure you take it exactly as prescribed.
* Your pharmacist can advise you on over-the-counter remedies that can help to treat many common infections.