By Teresa Carr, Consumer Reports Senior Editor
No, antibiotics won’t help with the cold or flu. Here’s more information to debunk that myth – plus five more – that mislead people about antibiotics.
Myth 1. They can cure colds and the flu.
Not so. Antibiotics work against only bacterial infections, not viral ones such as colds, the flu, most sore throats, and many sinus and ear infections.
Myth 2. They have few side effects.
Almost 1 in 5 emergency-room visits for drug side effects stems from antibiotics. In children, the drugs are the leading cause of such visits. Those side effects include diarrhea, yeast infections, and in rare cases, nerve damage, torn tendons, and allergic reactions that include rashes, swelling of the face or throat, and breathing problems. And the drugs can kill off good bacteria, increasing the risk of some infections, including C. difficile. At least 250,000 people a year now develop C. diff. infections linked to antibiotic use, and 14,000 die as a result.
Myth 3. A ‘full course’ lasts at least a week.
Not always. A shorter course can work for some infections, such as certain urinary tract, ear, and sinus infections. So ask your doctor for the shortest course and lowest dose of antibiotics necessary to treat your infection.
Myth 4. It’s OK to take leftover medication.
Nope. First, you may not need an antibiotic at all. And if you do, the leftovers may not be the right type or dose for your infection. Taking them could allow the growth of harmful and resistant bacteria. Return unused antibiotics to the pharmacy or mix them with coffee grounds or cat litter and toss in the trash.
Myth 5. All bacterial infections require drugs.
Mild ones sometimes clear up on their own. So ask your doctor whether you could try waiting it out.
Myth 6. The more bacteria a drug kills, the better.
Wrong. So-called broad-spectrum drugs, such as ceftriaxone, ciprofloxacin and levofloxacin, should be reserved for hard-to-treat infections.
Learn more about antibiotics
- Watch a video about antibiotics myths
- Read a Consumer Reports blog post, “When to Say No to Antibiotics.”
- Learn about Using Caution When Taking Antibiotics and other materials from Choosing Wisely
- Cold or Flu. Antibiotics Don’t Work for You.
- Antibiotics Aren’t Always the Answer – For Parents (flyer)
- Antibiotics Aren’t Always the Answer – For Parents (brochure)
- Snort. Sniffle. Sneeze. No Antibiotics Please.
- Six Smart Facts About Antibiotic Use
About Teresa Carr
My background is in both science and writing, which makes me curious to learn how things work and eager to tell you about it. Austin, TX is home base for me and I enjoy its music, walking trails, and dog-friendly patios. My idea of a healthy lifestyle is dancing enough to balance my love of food and drink.