Kaze wo hikanai de kudasai ne. (Don’t catch a cold!): Why do doctors treat a cold with antibiotics?

In Tokyo, the temperature is falling and the leaves are slowly dying. Everyone on the train is wearing a mask to protect themselves from getting a cold. “A cold” is translated as “風邪” (kaze) in Japanese. This word also means “wind”. It’s actually quite similar to our idea of the coldness around us making us sick, so our cultural ideologies about illness are comparable. But once you catch one, what should you do? That’s where we disagree.

 

 

One cultural misunderstanding that’s common between Japanese people and foreigners is how to deal with a cold. When Westerners have a cold, we usually don’t see a doctor because we believe there’s nothing the doctor can do; we just need to rest and get better. Whenever I have a cold, my Japanese co-workers urge me to go to see the doctor. They insist that any medicine I get from a pharmacy isn’t strong enough and that I need something stronger.
The few times I have seen a doctor, he prescribed antibiotics for a cold—a common practice in Japan. Westerners learn that antibiotics don’t work for colds. Are doctors trying to make patients happy by prescribing medicine? Are they just trying to make money off of you? Are they uneducated? Let’s take a closer look.

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