Cough? Sore throat? Runny nose? You or a loved
one feels miserable and you've come to the doctor looking for
Q: I'm sick. Don't I need a prescription for an antibiotic?
A: Your doctor has examined you and determined that your illness
is caused by a viral infection. Antibiotics do NOT treat viral
illnesses like a cold, flu and most sore throats.
Q: If antibiotics don't treat viral illnesses like cold and
flu, what do they treat?
A: Antibiotics are used to treat illnesses caused by bacteria.
Examples of illnesses caused by bacteria include strep throat,
tuberculosis and many types of pneumonia.
Q: Even though my illness may be caused by a virus, what
harm can it do to take an antibiotic?
A: Taking antibiotics when they aren't needed contributes
to the serious problem of antibiotic resistance.
Q: What is antibiotic resistance?
A: This is when bacteria cannot be killed by antibiotics.
The bacteria has become resistant. If this continues, over time
some recurring infections may have to be treated with different
and stronger antibiotics and the very real possibility that eventually
no antibiotic will be effective in killing the bacteria.
Q: If antibiotics will not help me, what will?
A: There are many over-the-counter products available to
treat the symptoms of your viral infection. These include cough
suppressants which will help control coughing and decongestants
to help relieve a stuffy nose. Read the label and ask your pharmacist
or doctor if you have any questions about which will work best
Help Yourself Feel Better While You Are Sick
A cold usually lasts only a couple of days to a week. Tiredness
from the flu may continue for several weeks.
To feel better while you are sick:
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Use a humidifier — an electric device that puts water
into the air.
There are a variety of OTC medications out there to also help
you feel better. Always read the label — including the warnings
— before taking any medication. If you have a pre-existing
medical condition, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart
disease, check with your doctor about which OTC product is best
- Antihistamine: reduces itchy watery eyes, sneezing, scratchy
- Decongestant: reduces nasal congestion
- Cough Suppressant: reduces coughing
- Expectorant: breaks up mucus (phlegm) in the chest
- Pain reliever: reduces aches and pain
- Fever Reducer: reduces body temperature
Contact Your Doctor Again If:
- Your symptoms get worse
- Your symptoms last a long time
- After feeling a little better, you develop signs of a more
serious problem. Some of these signs are a sick-to-your-stomach
feeling, vomiting, high fever, shaking chills, chest pain.