Antibiotics won’t help your cold or flu. Period.

That’s because colds and flus are caused by viruses — and antibiotics don’t work on viruses.

Should I take antibiotics anyway, just in case?

Nope. You wouldn’t rub cough syrup on an itchy rash. So why would you take an antibiotic when you have a cold or flu?

It won’t help you feel better, and it could actually make you more sick. Like any medicine, antibiotics can have side effects, so you could end up with more symptoms — like a yeast infection, rash, or diarrhea.


You can borrow leftover antibiotics from a friend if it seems like they had the same infection. Their antibiotics will totally work for you.

There are lots of other things you can do to feel better.

Kick back and relax — at home.

The extra sleep and rest will help you get better faster. Plus, if you go to work or school while you’re sick, you could get other people sick.

glass of water

Drink plenty of water or hot drinks.

When you’re sick, your body needs lots of fluids to help it heal. Choose drinks like water, orange juice, or herbal tea.

Use over-the-counter medicines to treat your symptoms.

For example, pain relievers can help with headaches, pain, and fever. Saline (salt) nasal spray can help if you’ve got a runny nose.

Ask your pharmacist or doctor for more advice on medicines and home remedies you can use to feel better.

nasal spray

Ugh, it’s not going away — do I need to call my doctor?

Most of the time, colds and flu get better on their own, in about 1 to 2 weeks. Go see your doctor if you:

  • Aren’t feeling better after 10 days
  • Have an ongoing fever higher than 100.4 degrees
  • Have serious or unusual symptoms, like chest pain or trouble breathing

Some people may need to talk to their doctor sooner — like people with asthma or people with weakened immune systems (for example, from cancer or HIV).

Doc, make it go away!

All of these patients want antibiotics. But antibiotics don’t treat everything. Read their symptoms and make the call — will antibiotics help them get better?

I’ve got a terrible cold, my nose is all stuffed up, and I can’t sleep — will antibiotics help?