Any advice published on this website is intended as additional information for registered patients only. It is not intended as a substitute for seeking advice from a GP where necessary and appropriate.
WHY NO ANTIBIOTIC?
Some people are surprised that when they have an infection no antibiotic is prescribed by their doctor. Why are antibiotics prescribed for some infections and not others? Antibiotics are very useful for certain types of infections caused by bacteria. They may even be life saving for serious bacterial infections. However, most common infections are caused by viruses.
Many of the common infections of the nose, throat, ears and chest are due to viruses. Flu and flu-like illnesses are also caused by viruses. The body's immune system is good at fighting off many types of virus infection in children and adults who are normally well. An antibiotic is not needed if a virus is causing an infection. This is because of the following.
Antibiotics do not kill viruses. Antibiotics only kill bacteria.
Antibiotics may cause side-effects such as diarrhoea, rashes, feeling sick etc. These may develop on top of any other symptoms from the virus infection..
Antibiotics do not speed up recovery from most nose, throat, ear and chest infections.
Why were antibiotics given in the past?
We used to think that antibiotics wouldn't harm you, so they were given out more often. In the past, overuse of antibiotics when they may not have been necessary has led to some bacteria becoming resistant to them. This means that they might not be as effective when they are really needed. Some doctors say that a lot of patients still expect a prescription for antibiotics, even though we now know that they are unlikely to help in most cases.
How can I get better quickly, if antibiotics are not the answer?
Most viruses will go without treatment which is fortunate as there are no specific treatments to kill most viruses. You may feel unwell for several days or more whilst the body is fighting off a viral infection. Treatments to ease symptoms include the following.
Take paracetamol to ease any aches, pains and headaches. Paracetamol liquid such as Calpol or Disprol is best for children. Ask your pharmacist for advice.
Have lots to drink to prevent any mild dehydration. This may develop if there is a fever and can make headaches and tiredness much worse.
If you have a fever it is important to try to keep cool. This is particularly important in young children. Do not wrap them up but keep clothing and bedclothes to a minimum and give paracetamol.
Other advice may be given for specific symptoms, for example, coughs and blocked noses. A pharmacist will be able to give you advice on appropriate treatments.
What if my symptoms change?
Most virus infections clear without complications. If the illness appears to worsen after a few days or if you are worried about any new symptoms, come back to see the doctor.