Antibiotics are used to treat or prevent some types of bacterial infection. They work by killing bacteria or preventing them from spreading. But they do not work for everything.


Antibiotics can only be prescribed by a medical doctor who has examined you.


Many illnesses can cause the same symptoms, but they might not  require the same treatment. If you have been prescribed an antibiotic  for a previous illness and have recovered well, it is tempting to want  to use the same antibiotic if you have similar symptoms. However, only a  medical doctor who has examined you can ascertain if an illness  requires treatment with antibiotics.

  • Never try to buy antibiotics without a prescription.
  • Never save antibiotics for later use.
  • Never use leftover antibiotics from previous treatments.
  • Never share leftover antibiotics with other people.

Do not keep leftover antibiotic treatments. If you received  more antibiotic doses (e.g. tablets, gel caps) than you were prescribed,  ask your pharmacist about how to dispose of the remaining doses.


Antibiotics are not painkillers and cannot cure every illness.

Antibiotics do not work like painkillers and cannot relieve headaches, aches, pains or fevers.

  • Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections and  cannot help you recover from infections caused by viruses such as the  common cold or the flu.
  • Up to 80% of winter illnesses affecting your nose, ears, throat and  lungs are of viral origin, so taking antibiotics will not make you feel  better.  


Taking antibiotics for wrong reasons, such as against colds and flu, will not help you feel better faster, and may cause side-effects.


Taking antibiotics against a cold or the flu has no benefit for you:  antibiotics simply do not work against viral infections. In  addition, antibiotics may cause several unpleasant side effects such as  diarrhoea, nausea or skin rashes.

Taking antibiotics to fight mild bacterial infections, such as  rhinosinusitis, sore throats, bronchitis or earaches, is often  unnecessary since, in most cases, your own immune system is able  to deal with such mild infections.

Most symptoms can be alleviated with over-the-counter medicines.  Taking antibiotics will not reduce the severity of your symptoms and  will not help you feel better faster.

If your symptoms persist or if you have any concern, it is important  that you see your doctor. If you really have a severe infection such as bacterial pneumonia, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. Seek help more quickly than other people :

  • if you are over 65 years old;
  • if you have asthma or diabetes;
  • if you have lung disease (e.g. chronic bronchitis, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease);
  • if you have heart problems (e.g. previous heart attack, angina, chronic heart failure);
  • if you have a medical problem where your immune system is suppressed; or
  • if you are taking drugs that suppress the immune system (e.g.  steroids, chemotherapy for cancer, some drugs used to suppress thyroid  gland functions).

Ask your pharmacist for advice: other medicines can help relieve your symptoms


Your pharmacist may recommend over-the-counter medicines to help alleviate your symptoms.

Always ask for advice, especially if you are taking medicines for any other condition.

  • Painkillers relieve aches, pains and fevers.
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines, such as throat sprays or pastilles, help you swallow more easily.
  • Oral expectorants clear secretions in your airways.
  • Nasal sprays and decongestants help you breathe more comfortably.
  • Antihistamines alleviate stuffy, sneezy and itchy noses.

Drinking plenty of fluids and getting some rest will help improve any winter illness.

General advice only

This information should not replace the information provided to you by your health care professional. If symptoms are severe or persist, please speak to your health care  professional. Information current as of date of publishing. Always check with your pharmacist or medical professional before starting any new medications or supplements, particularly if you have any pre-existing medical conditions, are taking any medications currently, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or researching therapies suitable for infants or children.