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Do I Really Need An Antibiotic?

Posted on May 1, 2017

You’ve had a runny nose for the last few days, been walking around your house with a box of tissues and can’t seem to get rid of your cough. After toughing it out for half a week you decide to go to the doctor, expecting them to give you the magic antibiotic to cure all your symptoms. Upon examination the doctor confirms that you do not have a fever and your lungs are clear, despite your bothersome symptoms. Yet they still prescribe you a course of antibiotics and you leave satisfied that your cold will soon go away.

But do you really need that antibiotic? 

According to data published in 2016 from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), at least 30 percent of antibiotics prescribed are unnecessary. Antibiotics fight against bacteria, yet most of the unnecessary antibiotics that are being prescribed are for respiratory conditions caused by viruses, the common cold, viral sore throats, bronchitis and sinus and ear infections and do not require an antibiotic. In addition, the more we use antibiotics the greater risk we have of developing resistance meaning they will no longer work at treating common bacterial infections.

What should you do then?

When to treat your symptoms at home?

  • Cold symptoms (sore throat, cough, runny nose) lasting less than 14 days.
    • Sore throat: try over-the-counter lozenges, honey with tea or chloraseptic spray.
    • Cough: expectorants vs. suppressants
      • Expectorants (guanifenesin) helps thin mucus, making it easier to cough.
      • Suppressants (dextromethorphan) decreases the frequency of cough.
  • Runny nose: try an over-the-counter antihistamine.
  • Use the product “Viracid” to relieve symptoms and reduce the number of days you feel sick (Viracid is available at all Fagen Pharmacy locations)
  • Sinus symptoms (stuffy, runny nose, pain in the face) lasting less than 10 days.
    • Take over-the-counter decongestant as the infection usually clears up in a week.
    • Ear infection (moderate pain) in children two years and older.
      • Give over-the-counter pain relievers (ibuprofen/acetaminophen) for a few days.

When to go to the doctor/when you may need an antibiotic?

  • A cough that does not get better in 14 days.
  • Sore throat with fever, redness and trouble swallowing.
  • Sinus symptoms (stuffy, runny nose, pain in the face) lasting more than 10 days.
  • A high fever with thick, colored mucus for more than 3 days.
  • Ear infection (pain) in babies 6 months and younger.
  • Ear infection (moderate to severe pain) in children 6 months old to 2 years old.
  • Ear infection (severe pain) in children 2 years and older.


  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work. Available at:
  2. Choosing Wisely. Antibiotics. Available at:
  3. U.S. News. Do You Really Need That Antibiotic?. Available at:

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