Antibiotics won’t make your cold better and may make you worse!

As part of antibiotics awareness week and to help people in Cumbria to stay well this winter Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust are explaining how antibiotics won’t work against the common cold.

Dr Andrew Brittlebank, the Trust's Medical Director explains:


Antibiotics do not work like painkillers and cannot relieve headaches, aches, pains or fevers. They 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. They could in fact make you worse; side effects can be nausea, diarrhea and skin rashes. In most cases, your own immune system is able to deal with such mild infections. But over the counter medicines with advice from your pharmacist can help with these common winter illnesses. And of course the best way to protect against the flu is to get your flu vaccination.

If your symptoms persist or if you have any concern, it is important that you see your doctor. Seek help more quickly from your doctor or pharmacist if you:

  • Are over 65 years old;
    • Have asthma or diabetes;
    • Have lung disease (e.g. chronic bronchitis, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease);
    • Have heart problems (e.g. previous heart attack, angina, chronic heart failure);
    • Have a medical problem where your immune system is suppressed;
    • Are taking drugs that suppress the immune system (e.g. steroids, chemotherapy for cancer, some drugs used to suppress thyroid gland functions). 
    • Always follow your doctor’s advice on when and how to use antibiotics.


Try this quiz developed by the World Health Organisation to find out how much you know about antibiotics.