Antibiotics are used to fight infections caused by bacteria, but not used for infections caused by viruses (such as colds or flu).
Antibiotics do not fight colds. As the body starts fighting a virus, white blood cells attack and kill the virus. The dead virus cells along with a person’s white blood cells make the mucus darker and greener. As long as fever and other symptoms are improving, this is the natural course of an infection due to a virus.
Most ear infections (even bacterial infections) will get better on their own if you give them a bit of time. Ear infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria. As a result, the doctor will often advise holding off on taking antibiotics. This also helps to prevent antibiotic resistance. Depending on the severity and past history, the doctor might decide an antibiotic is required. It should be taken as directed.
Antibiotics are important medicines. When needed, they can work quickly to treat a bacterial infection. They are especially helpful in treating infections such as strep throat, urinary tract infections, and pneumonia. It is important to remember that antibiotics must be taken as directed by the doctor.
A sore throat can be caused by either a viral or a bacterial infection. Most sore throats are caused by viruses. A sore throat caused by a virus typically occurs along with a cough, or runny nose. Viral infections do not need antibiotics.
Strep throat (bacterial infection) typically occurs about 7 – 10 days after a cold and should no longer be accompanied by a cough or runny nose. If a sore throat occurs without a cough and runny nose, but includes a fever and enlarged lymph nodes, talk with your doctor to see if a throat swab is recommended. If your sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection, the most common cause is Group A Streptococcus (GAS). In this case, antibiotics are recommended.
Accurate diagnosis of a sore throat is critical for limiting antibiotic overuse but distinguishing between GAS (caused by a bacterial infection) and sore throat caused by a viral infection can be challenging. If you have a sore throat with cold symptoms like cough or runny nose, you likely have a viral infection and antibiotics will not help.
Some people are carriers of GAS. Taking a throat swab during a cold might result in a positive test, but you likely have a viral infection and antibiotics will not help. That is why it is important not to do a throat swab if the patient has a runny nose or a cough, as the infection is due to a virus.