Healthy You - Every Day

Do You Need an Antibiotic?

Why your doctor may advise you against one

Do you need an antibiotic?

If you are sick, your first instinct may be to run to your family doctor to get a prescription for an antibiotic. However, clinical pharmacy specialist with Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN), Jarrod Kile, says that may not always be the best option.

“Antibiotics are a powerful tool in the fight against infections, however they also can cause side effects and become less effective in the future if they are used too much or improperly,” he says. “This is called antimicrobial resistance.”

What is antimicrobial resistance – and how can it hurt you

Antibiotics are used to treat a variety of bacterial infections. Antimicrobial resistance occurs when certain germs such as bacteria and fungi become resistant to the drugs designed to kill them. According to Kile, antimicrobial resistance is a serious problem and often the result of overuse or misuse of antibiotics.

“Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent threats to public health. It’s important that people understand when an antibiotic will be prescribed. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses like the flu and COVID-19,” he says.

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections such as:

  • Strep throat
  • Whooping cough
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Life-threatening conditions such as sepsis
“Everyone plays a part in combating antimicrobial resistance. Germs will continue to change and adapt, but prevention actions can help slow their development and spread.” - Jarrod Kile

Antibiotics do not work against colds or viruses, nor are they needed for some of the most common bacterial infections that often resolve on their own, including:

  • Many sinus infections
  • Some ear infections

Misuse of antibiotics also contributes to antimicrobial resistance. “When your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, it’s important to take the medication as directed. It’s also important to finish your prescription even if you start to feel better. Finishing the prescription will decrease the likelihood of needing the same medication down the road,” Kile says.


If you aren’t feeling well, reach out to your primary care doctor or clinician for medical advice.

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How you can prevent antimicrobial resistance

The good news is that you can prevent antimicrobial resistance. “Everyone plays a part in combating antimicrobial resistance. Germs will continue to change and adapt, but prevention actions can help slow their development and spread,” Kile says.

There are several ways you can protect yourself and your family from infection:

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Stay up to date on recommended vaccines
  • Prepare food safely
  • Prevent sexually transmitted diseases
  • Only use antibiotics and antifungals as prescribed by your health care specialist
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