Antibiotics Aren't Always the Answer
Dangers of Antibiotic Resistance
Colds and many other upper respiratory infections, as well as some ear infections, are caused by viruses, not bacteria. If antibiotics are used too often for things they can't treat—like colds or other viral infections—they can stop working effectively against bacteria when you or your child really needs them. Antibiotic resistance—when antibiotics can no longer cure bacterial infections—has been a concern for years and is considered one of the world's most critical public health threats.
CDC efforts have resulted in fewer children receiving unnecessary antibiotics in recent years, but inappropriate use remains a problem. Widespread overuse and inappropriate use of antibiotics continues to fuel an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Antibiotic resistance is also an economic burden on the entire healthcare system. Resistant infections cost more to treat and can prolong healthcare use.
Video: Parents Want To Do What's Best
When your child is sick, antibiotics may not be the answer. Work with your child's doctor or nurse to learn how you can help your child feel better. CDC created a 30-second TV public service announcement to highlight this important information.
Get Smart About When Antibiotics Are Appropriate
Taking antibiotics when you or your child has a virus may do more harm than good. In fact, in children, antibiotics are the most common cause of emergency department visits for adverse drug events. Rest, fluids, and over-the-counter products may be your or your child's best treatment option.
Get smart about when antibiotics are appropriate—to fight bacterial infections. Taking them for viral infections, such as a cold, most sore throats, acute bronchitis and many sinus or ear infections:
- Will not cure the infection
- Will not keep other people from getting sick
- Will not help you or your child feel better
- May cause unnecessary and harmful side effects
What Not to Do
- Do not demand antibiotics when a doctor says they are not needed.
- Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or most sore throats.
- Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be right for your or your child's illness. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to increase.
If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic for bacterial infection:
- Do not skip doses.
- Do not save any of the antibiotics for the next time you or your child gets sick.
What to Do
Use Antibiotics Wisely
Remember–there are potential risks when taking any prescription drug. Antibiotics should only be used when a doctor determines they are needed. Learn more about these risks.
Just because your doctor doesn't give you an antibiotic doesn't mean you aren't sick.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment for your or your child's illness. To feel better when you or your child has an upper respiratory infection:
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist about over-the-counter treatment options that may help reduce symptoms
- Increase fluid intake
- Get plenty of rest
- Use a cool-mist vaporizer or saline nasal spray to relieve congestion
- Soothe your throat with ice chips, sore throat spray, or lozenges (do not give lozenges to young children)
- Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work
- Symptom Relief
- Antibiotics Information en Español
- Tools for Healthcare Providers
- Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the US
- Antibiotic Resistance Questions & Answers
- Medication Safety
- Get Smart for Healthcare
Improving antibiotic use in in-patient healthcare facilities
- Watch a Video
- Send a Health-e-Card
- Download a Podcast or Video
- Page last reviewed: November 18, 2013
- Page last updated: December 16, 2013
- Content source:
- Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
- Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs