Prescribing antibiotics for older adults with urinary tract infection symptoms may be causing more harm than previously believed, a new study finds.

Certain levels of bacteria in urine are naturally occurring and important for general health, noted researcher Thomas Finucane, M.D., of John Hopkins Geriatrics Center. His work, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society and promoted last week by the AGS, examined how seniors often have moderate levels of bacteria in their urine, leading to an overused UTI diagnosis.

Even when significant bacteria and urinary symptoms occur, they can resolve spontaneously and likely won’t benefit from antibiotic treatment, he concluded.

An additional strategy may be education around the vagueness of the term.

“Repetitively calling out the ambiguity of ‘UTI,’ for example by annotating it with quotation marks in text and the bimanual ‘air quotes’ sign in conversation, might be similarly effective,” Finucane wrote.

Antibiotics still benefit people who are sick enough to require urgent antibiotic treatment, people with invasive bacterial diseases, pregnant women or people who are about to have bladder or urinary tract surgery.