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Take your doctor's advice on whether you need antibiotics or not.

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if you have an infection that is unlikely to go away without an antibiotic.

When to take antibiotics

Antibiotics are valuable in treating serious bacterial infections. They can treat bacterial infections that:

  • are unlikely to clear up without antibiotics
  • could infect others if untreated
  • last a long time if not treated with antibiotics
  • carry a risk of complications

In some cases, doctors will prescribe antibiotics if they think you're at risk of getting a bacterial infection. This is called prophylaxis.

When to avoid antibiotics

Antibiotics don't work for viral infections. For example, colds and flu, and most coughs and sore throats.

Side effects

Like any medicine, antibiotics can cause side effects. If you take antibiotics you don't need, you risk getting side effects for no reason. It's safer for you to avoid antibiotics if you don't need them.

Read more about the side effects

Antibiotic resistance

If you take antibiotics when you don't need them, they can become less effective in the future. This is because strains of bacteria resistant to antibiotics have emerged. We know them as 'superbugs'.

Antibiotics don't fight infections such as colds, flu, most coughs and sore throats.

Related topics

Antibiotic resistance

How to take antibiotics

page last reviewed: 22/11/2019
next review due: 22/11/2022