Dr. M.J. Bazos MD,
Antibiotics are strong medicines that can stop
some infections and save lives. But antibiotics can cause more harm than good
when they aren’t used the right way. You can protect yourself and your
family by knowing when you should use antibiotics and when you
Don’t antibiotics work against
No. Antibiotics only work against infections
caused by bacteria. They don’t work at all against infections caused by
viruses. Viruses cause colds and most coughs and sore throats.
What is “bacterial
Usually antibiotics kill bacteria or stop them
from growing. However, some bacteria have become resistant to specific
antibiotics so the antibiotics don’t work against them. Resistant bacteria
develop faster when antibiotics are used too often or are not used
Resistant bacteria sometimes can be treated with
antibiotics to which the bacteria have not yet become resistant. These medicines
may have to be given intravenously (through a vein) in a hospital. A few kinds
of resistant bacteria are untreatable.
What can I do to help myself and my
Don’t expect antibiotics to cure every
illness. Don’t take antibiotics for colds or the flu. Often, the best
thing you can do is to let colds and the flu run their course. Sometimes this
can take 2 weeks or more. Call your doctor if your illness gets worse after 2
How do I know when I need
The answer depends on what is causing your
infection. The following are some basic guidelines:
- Colds and flu. Viruses cause these
illnesses. They can’t be cured with antibiotics.
- Cough or bronchitis. Viruses almost always
cause these. However, if you have a problem with your lungs or an illness that
lasts a long time, bacteria may actually be the cause. Your doctor may decide to
try using an antibiotic.
- Sore throat. Most sore throats are caused
by viruses and don’t need antibiotics. However, strep throat is caused by
bacteria and does require antibiotics. A throat swab and a lab test are usually
needed before your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic for strep throat.
- Ear infections. There are several types of
ear infections. Antibiotics are used for some, but not all, ear infections.
- Sinus infections. Antibiotics should only
be used for severe infections or infections that last more than 2 weeks, since
these may be caused by bacteria. Antibiotics may be useful for sinus infections
in patients who have other diseases, such as asthma. A runny nose and yellow or
green mucus do not necessarily mean you need an antibiotic.