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Can antibiotics help treat a cold?

Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist

Antibiotics cannot treat a cold. These drugs are only effective against bacteria, which cause infections like strep throat. Colds are caused by viruses. When people take them unnecessarily, antibiotics become less effective because bacteria build up a resistance to them. That's why your doctor won't prescribe an antibiotic if you have a common cold.

Most colds are caused by viruses so antibiotics do not help. However, sometimes colds are caused by bacterial sources and then antibiotics can be helpful.

Both the flu (influenza) and the common cold are caused by viruses, so antibiotics do not treat them. However, some of the complications of colds and influenza are bacterial, such as ear infections, sinus infections, and pneumonia. Antibiotics can be used to treat these complications.

Antibiotics are used to fight bacteria. They are therefore not effective for treating colds, which are caused by viruses. In fact, overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance and reduced effectiveness when they are needed to fight a bacterial infection.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.