If you don’t need antibiotics, play it safe.
Learn when antibiotics can do more harm than good.

Antibiotics work great on bacterial infections – shortening illnesses and saving lives. But most colds, flu, coughs, sore throats, and earaches are caused by viral infections.

If you have a viral infection, an antibiotic won’t help and the side effects can make you feel miserable for longer, possibly leading to more doctor visits. If you don’t need antibiotics, it’s better to avoid them.

Possible side effects of antibiotics

Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
Up to 10 percent of people suffer from diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting while taking antibiotics. Your gut health relies on a sensitive balance between good and bad bacteria. Taking antibiotics upsets this balance by also killing your good bacteria along with the bad. Antibiotics can also cause your intestinal lining to become inflamed. As a result, your gut isn’t as effective at absorbing nutrients and water from your food.

Weakened immune system
Killing good bacteria can also weaken your immune system. Good bacteria help prevent disease-causing bacteria from growing in your gut and help prime the immune system by keeping it on the alert for other viruses. A study by Yale showed that mice that were given antibiotics had a harder time fighting the flu virus.

Yeast infections
Normally, the yeast Candida albicans (or candida) lives harmlessly in our bodies, kept in check by good bacteria. Taking antibiotics kills those bacteria, upsetting the natural balance and allowing the candida population to grow. This can cause things like vaginal yeast infections or thrush in other parts of the body, like the mouth. Up to 10 percent of people taking antibiotics will experience some kind of yeast infection.

Antibiotic resistance
Using antibiotics when they are not needed could mean that they won’t work when you do need them. Overusing antibiotics causes antibiotic resistance – when a strain of bacteria becomes resistant to multiple types of antibiotics. Diseases that were once easily treated with antibiotics can lead to longer-lasting and much more dangerous illnesses.

Allergic reactions
Although much less common, some people are allergic or hypersensitive to antibiotics. This can result in side effects like hives, breathing problems, or fever.


For more information:
Bugs are scary. Superbugs are even scarier.

Using the right tool for the job: When antibiotics do and don’t work

What you should know about using antibiotics

Pneumococcal vaccine reduces serious superbug infections

Report Cautions Doctors About Prescribing Antibiotics for Children

Share this article:

When taking an antibiotic can do more harm than good

Stay connected to your children’s health:

Want pediatric news, kid-friendly recipes and parenting tips?
Sign up for our patient parent newsletter:

Other great ways to connect: