Antibiotic Use and the Common Cold by Nathan Kiskila, M.D.


Board Certification: Family Practice

Board Certification: Family Practice

The common cold is an Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) that presents with nasal congestion, runny nose, cough, sore throat and sneezing.  URIs account for millions of doctor visits each year.  We often have patients asking for antibiotics when they have a cold.  Antibiotics do not help a common cold since a cold is a virus.  Antibiotics are only effective for treating bacterial infections.  It is actually detrimental to your health to unnecessarily take antibiotics for several reasons.  First of all, antibiotic use when not needed can cause resistant bacteria.  As a result, medications will no longer work as well, or at all.  Also, antibiotics can also have adverse side effects such as rash, swelling, or upset stomach.  Additionally, unnecessary antibiotics are an increased cost to the patient.

The treatment for the common cold is what physicians call supportive. That means support the symptoms. If you have a fever, use a fever reducer.  If you have a cough, try some cough syrup. For a sore throat use throat lozenges, hot tea or salt water gargles.  Get some rest to help strengthen your immune system and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Your immune system should help the common cold self-resolve but sometimes secondary complications can arise. Common secondary complications that may require an antibiotic are sinus infections, ear infections, tonsillitis or bronchitis. If your cold gets worse, then it’s a good idea to see your doctor. 

Source: Steinman MA, Gonzales R, Linder JA, Landefeld CS. Changing use of antibiotics in community-based outpatient practice, 1991-1999. Ann Intern Med. 2003;138(7):525-533
The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. Marque Medical is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.





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