What do antibiotics treat?
Both viruses and bacteria are microscopic, meaning they cannot be seen without a microscope but other than that they are very different. Most bacteria are harmless and even useful to people, and only 1% are harmful. Most viruses on the other hand do cause illness.
Antibiotics are a group of medicines that treat bacterial infections. They are usually only prescribed for serious bacterial infections such as pneumonia or meningitis. They are also prescribed for skin infections, water infections and to treat acne. A milder bacterial infection will usually be dealt with by the body’s own immune system. In these cases antibiotics do little to speed up the recovery. Most infections though are caused by viruses and antibiotics will not treat these at all.
What can I do if antibiotics are not prescribed?
- Have plenty of rest.
- Drink enough water so that you are passing urine regularly and do not feel thirsty.
- Paracetamol and ibuprofen can help to reduce a high temperature and can ease headaches and pain.
When do I need to see a doctor?
Occasionally mild infections develop into more serious ones. You must see your GP as soon as possible or call NHS 111
- If your symptoms appear to be changing or becoming worse
- If you are no better after a few days
- If you develop severe headache and are vomiting
- If your skin is very cold, has an unusual colour or if you have a rash
- If you are confused, drowsy or have slurred speech
- If you have chest pain
- If you have difficulty breathing
- If you have difficulty swallowing or are drooling
- If you cough up blood
- If you have fluid coming out of your ear or have new hearing loss
- If you have pain passing water, passing water more frequently, blood in the water or
- If you are feeling a lot worse
- If you are worried
If antibiotics are prescribed, it is very important to take them as directed by your GP.
If you do not, they may not work properly. Some antibiotics need to be taken before food, others with food. Always complete the course of antibiotics. Even though you may feel better midway through the course, please complete it. Otherwise the infection may only be partially treated and when it comes back it may well be resistant to the antibiotics.