In Depth: Antibiotics

How to Keep Antibiotics Working For You

Antibiotics have saved millions of lives. But now we're using them when we don't need them, like for coughs and sore throats. If we keep using them for the wrong reasons, eventually they won't work when we really do need them -- like to fight off a cancer patient's infection.

The materials here explain when you do need antibiotics, when you don't, and how you can feel better without using them.

Contents of This Section

When You Really Need Antibiotics, and When You Should Hold Off
What's Wrong with Antibiotic Overuse?
CDC's 'Get Smart' Campaign Aims to Preserve Antibiotics
Questions to Ask: Share These With Your Friends

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When You Really Need Antibiotics, and When You Should Hold Off

Often patients leave the exam room with a prescription for an antibiotic just because that makes them—and the doctor—feel better about the encounter. Not because the drug itself will do any good. Here are ways to avoid that result. 

These brochures are part of Consumer Reports' contribution to the nationwide Choosing Wisely campaign.


Antibiotics: When You Need Them and When You Don't This is a guide to when and how to use antibiotics to help you and your loved ones avoid drug resistance.

Antibiotics for Respiratory Illness in Adults If you have a sore throat, cough, or sinus pain, you might expect to take antibiotics. 

Antibiotics for Ear Infections in Children They don't work for ear infections caused by viruses and do not help the pain.

Antibiotics for Respiratory Illness in Children Most of the time, children don't need antibiotics for sore throat, cough or runny nose. 

Antibiotics for Pink Eye Doctors often prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments for pink eye. Needlessly.

Antibiotics for Urinary Tract Infections in Older People Many older people get antibiotic treatment for urinary tract infections, even though they don't have symptoms of infection.

Antibiotics for Your Skin If you have eczema or have a surgical cut that is healing, antibiotics are not needed.

Oral Antibiotics for Ear Infections Sometimes antibiotic eardrops are safer and more effective than oral antibiotics.

Treating Sinusitis Millions are prescribed antibiotics each year for sinusitis, a frequent complication of the common cold, hay fever, and other respiratory allergies.

What's Wrong with Antibiotic Overuse?

Consumer Reports' award-winning series, America's Antibiotic Crisis, looks at the multiple causes, and deadly effects, of antibiotic abuse.



The Rise of Superbugs Dangerous infections that are resistant to antibiotics are spreading and growing stronger, with dire consequences.

How Your Hospital can Make You Sick Our centers for healing have turned into breeding grounds for dangerous—even deadly—infections. Consumer Reports’ new Ratings of more than 3,000 U.S. hospitals show which do a good job of avoiding the infections—and which don’t.

Making the World Safe from Superbugs Antibiotic overuse in meat and poultry production gives rise to dangerous bacteria. Here's what we must do to stop it—plus the protections consumers deserve and should demand.

CDC's 'Get Smart' Campaign Aims to Preserve Antibiotics

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, has focused attention on the public health threat posed by antibiotic-resistant diseases. The efforts include an annual Get Smart About Antibiotics Week, articles, brochures and tip sheets. 


Antibiotic Resistance: The Global Threat Antibiotic resistance—when bacteria no longer respond to the drugs designed to kill them—is happening right now across the world.

Resistance Anywhere is Resistance Everywhere The way we use antibiotics today or in one patient directly impacts how effective they will be tomorrow or in another patient; they are a shared resource.

Save Money With Antibiotic Stewardship Antibiotic stewardship programs and interventions help ensure that patients get the right antibiotics at the right time for the right duration.

Preserve the Power of Antibiotics Inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance and is a threat to patient safety. Here are steps providers can take.

Antibiotics Aren't Always the Answer As a parent, ask questions to make sure your sick child is getting the best care possible, which might not include an antibiotic.

Improving Antibiotic Use Among Hospitalized Patients Hospital administrators and health-care providers can reduce potential harm and risk for antibiotic resistance by implementing formal programs to improve antibiotic prescribing in hospitals.

Antibiotic Rx in Hospitals: Proceed With Caution Here's what hospital administrators can do to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance in their facilities.


Questions to Ask: Share These With Your Friends

These Consumer Reports poster are intended to help you get a conversation started with your healthcare providers.

5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Antibiotics.Talk to your doctor to make sure you only use antibiotics for the right reasons and at the right time.

Think Your Child Needs Antibiotics? Don’t push for antibiotics if they’re not really needed. If your pediatrician prescribes the drugs, ask why.

5 Questions to Ask About a New Drug Before you start taking any new drug, make sure you know what it's for and that you understand the doctor's directions for taking it.