Antibiotics are medicines that can help you and your family feel better fast, if taken correctly. Antibiotics cure infections caused by bacteria, like:
- Strep throat
- Staph infection
- Sinus infections
- Some pneumonia
- Some ear infections
But if you take antibiotics for infections they can’t cure, like ones caused by viruses, bacteria can build up antibiotic resistance. Bacteria can learn from the antibiotic and change to survive and grow. That means that when you take an antibiotic again, it won’t work as well because the bacteria will have changed.
Antibiotics can’t cure infections caused by a virus, like:
- Most coughs and bronchitis
- Sore throat not caused by strep
- Runny nose
Your doctor can tell whether you have a bacterial or viral infection by doing a quick test, like a throat swab.
If you’re prescribed an antibiotic, take it as your doctor directs. Don’t stop taking it early, even if you feel better. You need to kill all of the bacteria to keep from getting sick again.
If you have a viral infection, these steps might help you feel better:
- Get lots of rest.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Ask your doctor or pharmacist which pain relievers are right for your child’s age and how much you should give them.
- Try over-the-counter cold or cough medicine (check if it’s OK for kids).
To learn more about using antibiotics safely, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s learning series, Get Smart.