Prescription of medication
Compared to what you may be used to, doctors in the Netherlands are less likely to prescribe antibiotics and other medication. Most medication is not freely available at the pharmacy and requires a prescription from your GP after a personal consultation. However, after a consultation, it is possible that you will receive a diagnosis but no medication. Medication may have harmful side effects. A wait-and-see approach is often suitable for minor illnesses such as a sore throat or a common cold.
You may find that antibiotics in particular are prescribed less in the Netherlands. Antibiotics are medications used to treat infections caused by bacteria. But antibiotics do not work for all infections. The cause of the infection is important:
- Most infections are caused by a virus. For example, a cold or flu.
- Other infections are caused by bacteria. For example, a bladder infection, lung infection (pneumonia) and some sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- Some infections start with a virus, but are then taken over by bacteria. This can happen in the case of infections of the throat, the lungs, the middle ear or the eye. In that case, the infection gets worse, and often the fever increases. A fever can also come back after a few fever-free days.
How antibiotics work
Antibiotics work very well against infections caused by bacteria. They kill the bacteria or slow their growth. Antibiotics do not work against infections caused by viruses. Therefore, a doctor won’t prescribe antibiotics for a common cold or flu.
Penicillin is the best known antibiotic, but there are many other types. Each type of antibiotic works against other bacteria.
Disadvantages of antibiotics
Antibiotics can have side effects
- nausea or diarrhoea
- itchy rash (red spots or blotches) on the skin.
Antibiotics also kill the ‘good’ bacteria
A disadvantage of antibiotics is that they also work against the bacteria we need. For example, bacteria in our gut, which help us digest our food. When antibiotics also kill these ‘good’ bacteria, other bacteria or fungi sometimes have the chance to grow.
Bacteria can become insensitive (resistant)
If the same antibiotic is regularly used against certain bacteria, these bacteria can become insensitive (resistant) to the antibiotic. The bacteria are then no longer sensitive to that antibiotic. If you get an infection with such resistant bacteria, the antibiotics won’t help and you can become very ill. Sometimes other antibiotics will still work.
Your GP will carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of prescribing antibiotics in each medical situation. Talk to your GP if you feel uncomfortable not getting a prescription.