Authored by Revere Health

3 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Antibiotics

October 24, 2018 | Family MedicinePediatricsValue-Based Care

Antibiotics are medicines that help your body fight off infection and prevent bacteria from reproducing. However, it’s important to use antibiotics only when necessary because inappropriate use can be harmful to your health. Here’s what you need to know about antibiotics and how to take them safely.

1. Antibiotics do not treat viral infections

Some illnesses are caused by bacteria, others are caused by viruses. Unfortunately, antibiotics are only useful for treating bacterial infections. Taking an antibiotic for a viral infection will not make you feel better or keep you from spreading your infection to others.

How do I know if my infection is viral or bacterial?

It can be hard to distinguish between viral and bacterial infections. If you aren’t sure, talk to your doctor. Examples of viral infections (that cannot be treated with antibiotics) include:

  • Common cold
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Flu

Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics. Common examples are:

  • Strep throat
  • Whooping cough
  • Urinary tract infection

Some infections can be bacterial or viral, such as ear or sinus infections or bronchitis. Most of these infections go away on their own and don’t need antibiotics, but if your symptoms don’t resolve after about 10 days, make an appointment with your doctor.

2. Unnecessary antibiotic use can result in antibiotic resistance

Antibiotics destroy some bacteria but not all of them. Leftover bacteria that were not killed by the antibiotic can grow and multiply, leading to the development of drug-resistant bacteria. This is called antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance is dangerous because it has the potential to make simple-to-treat illnesses, like strep throat, difficult to treat or untreatable altogether. If antibiotics do not work due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, your infections may last longer and lead to serious complications.

Never pressure your doctor to prescribe antibiotics for viral infections. Instead ask if there are other things you can do to feel better, such as over-the-counter treatments.

3. Antibiotics are generally safe when taken appropriately

All this information may make antibiotics seem more harmful than helpful, but if your doctor concludes that your infection is bacterial, antibiotics are an effective treatment when used correctly. Follow these steps to ensure safe antibiotic use:

  • Don’t stop taking your antibiotics early: Even if you feel better, it’s important to complete the full course of the drug. If you don’t, the antibiotic might not destroy all the bacteria and you may get sick again.
  • Don’t save antibiotics for the next time you get sick: there are different types of antibiotics, and not all types are appropriate for every bacterial infection. If you take leftover drugs next time you are sick, it may not be as effective and may worsen your condition.
  • Don’t take anybody else’s antibiotics: Taking antibiotics prescribed for someone else can make you sicker and cause bad side effects. It can also delay getting the correct treatment.

Antibiotics are life-saving drugs, but they can lead to serious problems when used inappropriately. If you’re ever unsure about how to take your antibiotic or if an antibiotic is necessary, talk to your doctor.

Our internists provide a wide variety of care for disease treatment and prevention. We offer immunizations, health management counseling for chronic conditions such as diabetes, physicals, and screenings for hypertension, osteoporosis, and sleep disorders.


“Antibiotics for a Sore Throat, Cough or Runny Nose.” Choosing Wisely.

“Antibiotic Prescribing and Use in Doctor’s Offices – What You Can Do.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Antibiotic Prescribing and Use in Doctor’s Offices – Fast Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Antibiotic Prescribing and Use in Doctor’s Offices – Antibiotic Resistance Questions and Answers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Combating Antibiotic Drug Resistance.” United States Food and Drug Administration.


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.