Respiratory Illness? Antibiotics Probably Won’t Help

Respiratory Illness? Antibiotics Probably Won’t HelpYour head aches, your throat burns, and your nose runs. You might think asking your doctor for an antibiotics prescription will speed your recovery. But advice from two expert groups warns against it.

After all, antibiotics don’t work against viruses, which cause most respiratory infections. Plus, overusing them creates super-germs resistant to future treatment.

So in 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Physicians joined forces. Together, they published guidelines in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Doctors should never prescribe antibiotics for the common cold, a mild illness caused by viruses.
And you probably don’t need them for any other respiratory condition, either. Exceptions include:

  • Bronchitis: If your doctor suspects you also have pneumonia.
  • Sore throat: When you test positive for strep throat.
  • Sinus infection: For symptoms that are severe, linger for more than 10 days, or worsen after first getting better. These signs mean bacteria are probably involved.

Save Money, Avoid Side Effects
Preventing bacterial resistance stands as the biggest reason to steer clear of unnecessary antibiotics. But there are also more immediate perks. 

Like any medications, antibiotics have risks. Side effects range from mild—upset stomach or rash—to severe and life-threatening. The benefits might outweigh the risks if you have a bacterial infection. But if antibiotics won’t actually help you, there’s no reason to put yourself in danger.

Soothe Symptoms Instead
That doesn’t mean you simply need to suffer. Resting, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking over-the-counter medications can relieve symptoms.

The CDC offers feel-better tips for each illness. Head to cdc.gov/getsmart. Click on “Treatment of Common Illnesses,” then “Common Illnesses.”

Pick Your PCP
With COVID-19 still circulating in communities, it’s more important than ever to have a primary care doctor (PCP) you trust. When you’re feeling sick, he or she can help you figure out if it’s a cold, flu, or something more serious. Use our Find a Doctor tool to pick the PCP who’s just right for you.