Colourful assortment of pills and medication in their sheets

As the cold weather arrives, so do the dreaded cold and flu outbreaks. They can make you feel rotten and it’s tempting to visit your doctor as soon as illness hits, but it’s often not the best decision. You’ll either come away empty handed or with antibiotics that won’t make you feel any better.

Many people swear by antibiotics for beating a cold or flu, but this is actually a complete myth – antibiotics won’t do anything to improve the symptoms. Unfortunately, lots of us don’t know this and it’s leading to something called ‘antibiotic resistance’, which could become a big problem soon if we don’t tackle it.

We’re breaking down the myths surrounding antibiotics and offering some of our top tips for beating colds and flu at home.

Why Won’t My Doctor Prescribe Me Antibiotics?

Many of us might have visited our doctor when we’re feeling a bit rubbish, hoping for something to banish the annoying cough or aching, tired feeling we’ve come down with. Rather than leaving with something to cure us, most of us have probably left disappointed and frustrated when we’re told rest, rather than antibiotics, is (literally) what the doctor’s ordered.

Without making you feel like you’re back in science class, here’s a quick explanation of why antibiotics don’t get rid of colds or the flu. Antibiotics were created to treat bacterial infections, which get into your body and make you sick. Most of us have taken them before to treat things like chest infections and infected cuts. You might have also been prescribed them to get rid of a more personal problem, like an STI or urinary tract infection (UTI).

Colourful assortment of pills and medication in their sheets

What’s The Difference Between a Cold and an Infection?

The common cold and the flu are viruses, not bacteria. This means that antibiotics, which get rid of bacteria, will have absolutely no effect on them. Sometimes, people with serious health conditions will develop a bacterial infection as well as a virus, as their bodies aren’t very effective at fighting off illness. But, other than in those with weak immune systems, colds and flu should go away on their own after a week or so. Antibiotics won’t make you feel any better, unfortunately.

Taking antibiotics could even make you feel worse, as they often come with side effects like diarrhoea and nausea (and nobody wants either of those). They can also destroy healthy bacteria in your body, possibly leading to thrush and digestive issues (again, not desirable). So, unless you’ve been feeling seriously under the weather for more than a week, it’s best to fight a cold or flu with lots of rest and over the counter remedies.

Why Do We Need Antibiotics?

While the cold and flu will make you feel bad for a while before heading off to bother another poor person, bacterial infections don’t usually go away on their own.

Treatment, like antibiotics, is required to stop the person getting seriously ill. Nasty illnesses like meningitis and sepsis can be cured if they’re tackled quickly with antibiotics, but without them anyone who comes down with even a mild bacterial infection could become seriously ill very quickly.

Pills or capsules as a question mark and white plastic bottle.

Why is Antibiotic Resistance a Problem?

Antibiotics save lives, as bacterial infections like sepsis (blood poisoning) and meningitis will kill you if they’re not treated. If antibiotics become ineffective at treating bacterial infections, illnesses that are fairly easy to treat could have lifelong effects, particularly for those with weak immune systems or chronic health conditions.

It’s not too late, though. We can all help stop antibiotic resistance becoming a serious problem by treating colds and mild flu with over-the-counter remedies.

How Can I Treat Myself?

Instead of heading to your GP, visit your pharmacist when you feel a cold coming on.

Check out the cough, cold & flu section, where you’ll find effective medications like cold & flu capsules, lozenges to treat a sore throat and decongestants to help with a blocked nose. If you need advice or aren’t sure what you can take alongside any prescription medication, your pharmacist will be able to give you lots of great advice.

Alongside this, the NHS recommends getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated and taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease any aches and pains .

Our advice? Have a duvet day or two and catch up on that series you’ve been meaning to binge-watch. You’ll feel better in no time.