Antibiotics do NOT cure colds and flus.
Antibiotics fight infections that are caused by bacteria, but they do not treat infections that are caused by a virus. Colds and flu are caused by viruses. If you have a viral infection, antibiotics will NOT make you better.
Antibiotics can destroy normal ("healthy") bacteria that live in your body. When this happens, symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea may develop, and women can get vaginal yeast infections.
The overuse of antibiotics has played a role in the increase of drug-resistant bacterial infections. Taking antibiotics can also put you at risk of an allergic reaction. Antibiotics should not be taken when they will not treat an illness.
Antibiotics - colds and flu
Lindell A, Kelsberg G, Safranek S. Antibiotics for viral upper respiratory tract infections in children. Am Fam Physician. 2011;83(6):747-52. PMID: 21404988 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21404988.
Livingston C, Cozzens J, Hamilton A. Treatments for symptoms of the common cold. Am Fam Physician. 2013;88(12):Online. PMID: 24364554 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24364554.
Melio FR, Berge LR. Upper respiratory tract infection. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 75.
Update Date 5/5/2014
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.