CSPI Antibiotics Resistance Project
Center for Science in the Public Interest
Consumer Tips for Using Antibiotics
It’s always best to ask your health-care provider if antibiotics are right for you or your child, but here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind when you talk to your physician or nurse.
Unnecessary antibiotics can be harmful. Taking antibiotics causes bacteria to become resistant. People who have taken antibiotics recently are more susceptible to infections with bacteria that are resistant and may pass them on to family members and friends.
Most sore throats are caused by viruses. One exception is strep throat, which is caused by bacteria. A throat culture can determine if you have strep throat and what antibiotic will cure you.
Antibiotics do not work against colds or flu, which are caused by viruses.
Coughs and bronchitis are almost always caused by viruses. However, if your symptoms last for more than two weeks, or if you have a lung condition, your symptoms may be caused by bacteria. Your health-care provider can determine if you need an antibiotic.
There are a number of types of ear infections. Some require antibiotics, others do not.
Sinus infections may be caused by bacteria or viruses. Symptoms such as yellow or green mucus do not necessarily mean that you have a bacterial infection. A viral infection can cause those symptoms as well. Antibiotics only should be used for a severe infection, or one that lasts more than two weeks, since those may be caused by bacteria.
If you are prescribed an antibiotic by your health-care provider, make sure to take all doses as directed. Don’t stop taking the antibiotic if you feel better. If you stop taking the antibiotic early, the bacteria that are still alive can restart an infection.
Do not save antibiotics for later use or share them with others. A health-care provider should evaluate each person each time they are sick. Also, using only part of a prescription could allow bacteria that survive the treatment to reinfect you.
Do not call or go to the doctor expecting antibiotics or demanding them. Many times taking medicines to alleviate the symptoms and allowing the bodies’ own immune system to fight infection is more effective.
Antibiotics may cause mild to severe side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, and allergic reactions. Antibiotics also may kill naturally occurring bacteria that protect the body from yeast infections. If you experience any of the above symptoms, consult your health-care provider.
Adapted from information provided by the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.