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The Truth about Antibiotics and Antibiotic Resistance

You may have noticed that sometimes doctors are less likely to prescribe antibiotic medicines for you or family members. What is behind this change, and what do you need to know about antibiotic medicines and the problem of antibiotic resistance?  Get answers to the most pressing questions about antibiotic medicines from Rite Aid experts.

Why do doctors only prescribe antibiotics some of the time?

Doctors consider what is causing your infection to decide if antibiotics are the right treatment for you. Because antibiotics are only effective for illnesses caused by bacteria, they are not prescribed for viral illnesses.

How do doctors know whether it’s a virus or a bacterial infection?

Here are some general guidelines:

  • Colds and flu: Caused by viruses and can’t be cured with antibiotics.
  • Cough or bronchitis: Usually caused by viruses, but if your illness lasts a long time, bacteria may be the cause. Doctors may prescribe antibiotics if you are diagnosed with another type of respiratory infection, such as pneumonia, or if they think your bronchitis is caused by bacteria.
  • Sore throat: Usually caused by viruses, but strep throat is caused by bacteria. Your doctor can determine if you have strep throat.
  • Ear infections: There are several types of ear infections and depending on the type, antibiotics may be required for treatment.
  • Sinus infection: Can be caused by virus or bacteria, but more commonly viruses. Antibiotics might be required if symptoms last longer than one week, improve but then worsen again, or are very severe (high fever, extreme sinus pain, or signs of skin infection). 

Why not try antibiotics if it’s unclear whether it is a virus or bacterial infection?

Doctors are careful to only prescribe antibiotics when they are necessary and likely to help.  That’s because using antibiotics can actually cause growth of bacteria that does not respond to the medicine, called “antibiotic resistance.” Basically, when a person takes an antibiotic, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant germs may be left to grow and multiply. Then, some types of antibiotics are not effective at killing bacteria, and stronger antibiotics are needed.

Antibiotics are lifesaving medicines, but they are sometimes prescribed when not needed or used incorrectly. Overuse and misuse of antibiotics have contributed to an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  Doctors also want to avoid the side effects that some people may get from an antibiotic, such as nausea, diarrhea, or allergic reactions.

Why is antibiotic resistance a problem?

When antibiotics don’t work, people can have longer and more complicated illnesses, and they need more doctor visits and stronger and more expensive drugs to treat their illness.  Bacterial infections can become very serious and difficult to treat.

What can I do to prevent antibiotic-resistant infections?

  • When you have an illness, ask if an antibiotic is likely to be effective for your condition and what else you can do to relieve your symptoms.
  • If your doctor says you do not have a bacterial infection, do not pressure him or her to prescribe an antibiotic!
  • Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or the flu. It won't work, and over time this practice helps create bacteria that are more difficult to kill.
  • Wash your hands regularly.

What should I do when I am given an antibiotic prescription?

  • Take all of the medicine, even if you are feeling better. If you stop treatment too soon, the antibiotic may not kill all the bacteria, you may become sick again, and the remaining bacteria may become resistant to the antibiotic you took.
  • Do not skip doses. Antibiotics are most effective when taken regularly.
  • Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be appropriate for your illness and could make your condition worse.

Talk to your Rite Aid Pharmacist if you have questions about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance.

These articles are not a substitute for medical advice, and are not intended to treat or cure any disease.  Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary.  Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise or medication regimen.


Combatting Antibiotic Resistance, Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
Antibiotic Resistance Questions and Answers, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
About Antimicrobial Resistance, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Get Smart, Know When Antibiotics Work, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Understanding Antimicrobial (Drug) Resistance, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases:
Antibiotics: When They Can and Can’t Help, American Academy of Family Physicians: