Information on Antibiotics

Antibiotics are important medicines that help to fight serious infections caused by bacteria. They don’t cure infections caused by viruses.

Most infections get better without antibiotics, so you should not always expect to be given a prescription. Your doctor will assess your illness and tell you whether or not you need antibiotics.

When do I need antibiotics?

Bacteria live outside cells and can therefore be reached by antibiotics. They may cause illnesses like meningitis, kidney infections, pneumonia or blood poisoning.

Viruses live inside cells and cannot be reached by antibiotics. They may cause illnesses such as colds and flu, most coughs, most sore throats. In general virus illnesses are more common and less serious than bacterial infections.

Why not have antibiotics anyway?

We need to be careful with using antibiotics. Bacteria are clever and can adapt to develop resistance to antibiotics if they are used too much. Hospitals have great problems with resistant strains such as MRSA. Also many people can become sensitive to antibiotics and develop side effects from them.

There is nothing antibiotics can do when you have colds or flu

But colds always go to my chest – surely I need an antibiotic then?

Usually not. Most coughs and cold produce symptoms for about a week or 10 days and illnesses are not shortened by the use of antibiotics.

So what can I do for my cold?

Most of the symptoms are due to temperature or congestion.

  • Use Paracetamol and / or ibuprofen (if safe for you) to help keep temperature down. Drink plenty of fluids.
  • You may find steam inhalations with menthol products will ease nasal congestion.
  • Remember to ask your pharmacist for advice on simple remedies.

My children are always getting infections

Many children pick up a run of virus infections when they (or their brothers and sisters) start school or playgroup. These usually get better on their own and do not need antibiotics.

In the past, when children have been over prescribed antibiotics they have developed hearing problems due to glue ear. Follow the advice above for your children. We prefer paracetamol to aspirin for children’s temperatures.

Warning signs

If you have followed this advice, but are not improving – what are the danger signs?

  • Increasing temperature
  • Shortness of breath / wheeze
  • Large amounts of green or brown phlegm.
  • Spreading rash which does not fade with pressure

If you have any of these signs please contact the surgery for advice

Remember patients with Diabetes, COPD, Heart disease, Kidney disease may be more vulnerable to a secondary bacterial infection, and should have a regular flu jab each year.