Ask Dr Ellie Cannon! Antibiotics, flu vaccinations and food allergies

Ask Dr Ellie Cannon! Antibiotics, flu vaccinations and food allergies

Our resident GP looks at pressing medical issues, including the dangers of flu during pregnancy and the seriousness of food allergies

Q We lived in Israel for years, where it was never a problem to get antibiotics for a sore throat or infection straight away. Here, we are just left to suffer. Why does our GP here not treat us?

Your GP here is doing exactly the right thing.

The truth is you don’t actually need antibiotics for a sore throat: most sore throats are caused by viruses, and antibiotics only help infections caused by bacteria.

The common winter infections that people suffer with like coughs, colds, sore throats and tummy bugs do not require antibiotics and rushing to take them causes huge problems. Giving you an antibiotic you don’t need means you will then be resistant to that antibiotic for a while: that could be very dangerous if you have a very serious infection and need them.

GP Dr Ellie Cannon
GP Dr Ellie Cannon

We now have a massive global problem of antibiotic resistance and it is predicted that the time will come soon when we won’t be able to use antibiotics for infections we treat now, because they will no longer work. The situation is made even more serious by the fact very few new antibiotics are being developed as they are not a good money-spinner for drug companies.

GPs in the UK have cut back vastly on antibiotic prescribing in the past few years and we are hoping other countries will follow suit. For a sore throat, treat yourself instead with paracetamol, anaesthetic throat sprays and plenty of rest. It can take a week to ten days to clear up.

Q My daughter is five months pregnant and I was surprised to hear her midwife wants her to have a flu jab. Surely vaccinations aren’t safe in pregnancy?

Flu is not simply a bad cold: it is actually a very serious illness that in certain groups such as the under-fives and pregnant women can lead to hospitalisation.

Flu is particularly dangerous in pregnancy: in fact, a woman who is pregnant is seven times more likely to die from flu than if she wasn’t pregnant.

Vaccinating protects against the current circulating strains of flu to protect her and her unborn baby. It also means she is less likely to pass on flu to her baby after birth and in the first few months of the baby’s life. So all in all it’s a good idea.

As far as having a vaccination when pregnant: the safety record is proven to be good. The flu vaccine is not a “live” vaccine: that means she is not being injected with active virus but rather parts of the virus to trick her immune system into making protective antibodies.

So if she comes into contact with flu,her body will be prepared to fight it before she becomes ill. Vaccination in pregnancy is not just limited to flu: she will also have been offered a whooping cough vaccination while pregnant.

This is hugely important to protect her newborn from the current rise we are seeing in this infection: I would totally recommend she has that one too!

Q Food allergies seem so common. Everyone I invite over for a meal seems to have an intolerance. How careful do I have to be with the food? Surely they are just being fussy?

There is certainly a growing trend in gluten-free, dairy-free, this intolerance and that intolerance. Many people opt into this fad because they genuinely feel better by avoiding these products. It is likely these people have an intolerance: what this means is that eating a certain amount of that specific food causes symptoms whether it be abdominal pain, skin rashes, bloating or nausea. Often these are not medically diagnosed but it is still perfectly valid for people to want to avoid these symptoms: they have likely discovered this intolerance through an exclusion diet, realising they feel better without that food.

If they did eat the wrong food, they would have symptoms but no serious problems. Other people simply opt into the gluten-free or dairy-free lifestyle because they believe it to be healthier: an idea not backed by medical science unless you have genuine allergies. With a genuine food allergy – such as a nut allergy – the body actually has an immediate allergic reaction with hives, throat swelling and life-threatening breathing difficulties. This can be fatal and is very fast.

This really is a serious medical issue and people with genuine food allergies cannot even tolerate their food being slightly contaminated with the offending food. The safest thing to do is to check whether it is an allergy and how careful you have to be.

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