Antibiotics Aren't Always the Answer
Antibiotics do not fight infections caused by viruses like colds, flu, most sore throats, bronchitis, and many sinus and ear infections. Instead, symptom relief might be the best treatment option for viral infections.
Get smart about when antibiotics are needed—to fight bacterial infections. When you use antibiotics appropriately, you do the best for your health, your family's health, and the health of those around you.
Taking antibiotics for viral infections, such as colds, flu, most sore throats, 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
- May contribute to antibiotic resistance, which is when bacteria are able to resist the effects of an antibiotic and continue to cause harm
Rest, fluids, and over-the-counter products may be your or your child's best treatment option against viral infections.
What to Do
Just because your healthcare professional doesn't give you an antibiotic doesn't mean you aren't sick. Talk with your healthcare professional about the best treatment for your or your child's illness.
To feel better when you or your child has a viral infection:
- Ask your healthcare professional about over-the-counter treatment options that may help reduce symptoms.
- Drink more fluids.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Use a cool-mist vaporizer or saline nasal spray to relieve congestion.
- Soothe your throat with crushed ice, sore throat spray, or lozenges. (Do not give lozenges to young children.)
- If you are diagnosed with the flu, there are flu antiviral drugs that can be used to treat flu illness. They are prescription drugs.
What Not to Do
- Do not demand antibiotics when your healthcare professional says they are not needed.
- Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection.
- Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be right for your illness. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to grow.
If your healthcare professional prescribes an antibiotic for a bacterial infection:
- Do not skip doses.
- Do not stop taking the antibiotics early unless your healthcare professional tells you to do so.
- Do not save any of the antibiotics for the next time you or your child gets sick.
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.
- CDC's Get Smart Programs
- Symptom Relief
- Antibiotics Information en Español
- Tools for Healthcare Professionals
- Send a Health-e-Card
- Download a Podcast or Video
- Antibiotic Resistance Information
- Medication Safety
- Page last reviewed: November 18, 2013
- Page last updated: August 28, 2014
- Content source:
- National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Division of Bacterial Diseases and Division of Viral Diseases
- Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs