The Reality of Colds Why don’t antibiotics treat colds?


The Reality of Colds

Why don’t antibiotics treat colds?


Sneezing, perhaps a sore throat, and annoying coughs—colds or the flu affect us all at this time of the year. Many people believe that antibiotics can treat colds, but here’s what you need to know about preventing and treating these viral infections.


Commonly known as the “Common Cold” for an obvious reason

  • You and your children may suffer from colds more than any other illness in your lives. Colds are the most common, and a major cause of children’s absenteeism from school. Colds can quickly spread through schools or daycare centers, causing parents to miss work often due to infections from their children.


Antibiotics do not treat colds

  • If you have a cold, of course, you want something to help you feel better. Many people turn to doctors for antibiotics, but antibiotics do not work for treating common colds, which are caused by exposure to certain types of viruses, not bacterial infections.


Antibiotics treat bacterial infections.

  • Antibiotics treat infections and diseases caused by bacteria, such as bacterial bronchitis, pneumonia, throat bacterial infections, bacterial ear infections, and pink eye (conjunctivitis). Antibiotics can save lives when used correctly. Sometimes, bacterial infections follow a cold, and signs that you have a bacterial infection after catching a cold include pain around the face and eyes that may worsen when bending forward, and thick yellow or green mucus cough. These symptoms may also occur with a cold, but if they persist for more than a week or are severe, you may have a bacterial infection requiring antibiotics.


Antibiotic resistance

  • Taking unnecessary antibiotics can be dangerous and increase the risk of antibiotic resistance, a widespread public health issue worldwide. Taking antibiotics for a cold or taking them frequently can change germs in your body, leading to their resistance when you urgently need them. Your illness may worsen, requiring emergency medical care, and taking multiple antibiotics intravenously. Additionally, you can transmit these resistant bacteria to those around you, causing them to suffer from a difficult-to-treat illness.


Taking antibiotics responsibly

  • When taking antibiotics, remember:
    • Do not self-treat: Take antibiotics only when prescribed by a doctor; a pharmacist is not a substitute for a doctor.
    • Listen to your healthcare provider; your doctor will determine if you have a bacterial or viral infection and prescribe antibiotics if necessary.
    • Use antibiotics as prescribed; take all your prescribed medication for your illness at the specified times according to your doctor’s instructions. If you don’t complete the necessary antibiotic treatment period after starting it, it increases the chance of bacteria resistance, leading to their growth and multiplication later.
    • Do not share medication; do not give antibiotics to anyone, and do not take antibiotics from someone else. Antibiotics are not interchangeable; you should take the appropriate antibiotic for your condition.


Be cautious of doctors who prescribe antibiotics negligently.

  • If your doctor is willing to give you antibiotics when you have a cold, consult another doctor to learn the facts about when to use antibiotics and when not to. Your doctor will help you make the right decision for yourself and your child.


Available tests to distinguish between the viral and bacterial causes of inflammation:

  • There are several tests that can help you determine the cause of your illness, such as a complete blood count (CBC), which shows an increase in white blood cell count in the presence of bacterial inflammation. It takes only a few hours to perform in the laboratory. Additionally, throat swab tests and cell cultures, with results available within three days, can help confirm the cause of your illness.


Facts about the common cold (flu)

While it’s likely that you and your children will catch colds, you can avoid some possible causes and treatments:



  • The flu virus spreads through small airborne droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs. This person is usually contagious within the first three days of the infection and is generally no longer contagious after a week of illness.



  • Colds usually cause a runny nose, nasal congestion, and sneezing. It may also cause throat inflammation, coughing, headaches, or other symptoms. Adults and older children often get colds with low or no fever, while young children often have a fever ranging from 37.5 to 38.5 degrees Celsius.



  • The primary treatment is getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids. Medications help alleviate symptoms in adults and children over the age of six but do not quickly cure colds. Alternative treatments, such as chicken soup, vitamin C, zinc, and echinacea herb, can help you avoid colds and feel better.
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