The fear of overusing antibiotics—and creating bacteria resistant to treatment—is legitimate: These drugs should only be taken to treat actual bacterial infections, such as strep throat, not for common viral illnesses such as colds and the flu. Don’t push for antibiotic therapy, and if your doctor offers a prescription, ask if you really need it. According to one recent study, more than 25% of all outpatient antibiotic prescriptions for respiratory conditions are entirely unnecessary, and that is a conservative estimate. With mild infections, try waiting a day or 2 to see if you get better on your own, provided your doctor agrees. Any worsening of symptoms should prompt a call or visit to the doctor, at which time antibiotics may be started, but often the body heals itself, especially if the cause is viral.
Focus on ways to help manage bothersome symptoms that don’t require prescription drug therapy, such as staying hydrated and getting adequate rest. Of course, prevention is the best medicine. Don’t smoke, eat a satisfying healthy diet, stay physically active, manage your stress well, and aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. Get the annual flu vaccine, and during cold season be sure to wash your hands frequently. To learn more about the proper use of antibiotics visit the CDC’s online Get Smart About Antibiotics Program.
Definitely don’t self-diagnose and order antibiotics online or take leftover or another person’s antibiotic pills—you may do more harm than good, both personally by disrupting your body’s balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria, risking allergic reactions and more, and community-wide by contributing towards antibiotic resistance. (Learn how to hack your gut bacteria for faster-than-ever weight losswith The Good Gut Diet.)
If you are sick enough to consider the need for an antibiotic then you are sick enough to speak with your doctor, who should help make the decision about whether or not prescription antibiotic therapy is really necessary. Use other forms of antibiotic therapy like ointments or eye drops only as directed, and complete the full course of pills you are prescribed.