In Depth: Antibiotics

Antibiotics: Do They Help or Do They Harm?

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' Program: All About Appropriate Prescribing
Questions to Ask: Share These With Your Friends
Virtual Conversations about Antibiotics

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

Often patients get a prescription for an antibiotic when they don't really need one -- just because it makes them, and their healthcare provider, feel like they are doing something. But frequently that antibiotic really won't help you -- and it could harm you.

The brochures in this section are part of Consumer Reports' contribution to the nationwide Choosing Wisely campaign. They all focus on how to use antibiotics safely and properly.


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.

Antibiotics: Will They Help You or Hurt You? We suggest that everyone, including seniors, ask their health care provider questions before taking any antibiotics, and be aware of ways to use fewer antibiotics.

Five Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before You Take Antibiotics (rack card) Have a sore throat, cough, or runny nose? You probably don’t need antibiotics.

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

Treating Sinusitis Every year, millions are prescribed antibiotics needlessly 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 of magazine articles, America's Antibiotic Crisis, looks at the multiple causes, and deadly effects, of antibiotic overuse. The American College of Physicians also provides information on the consequences.



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.

Things You Should Know About C. Difficile Infection From the American College of Physicians: Taking antibiotics changes the normal balance of bacteria in the gut, allowing C. difficile to multiply and produce toxins. 

CDC's 'Get Smart' Program: All About Appropriate Prescribing

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.

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

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.

Preserve the Power of Antibiotics Inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance and is a threat to patient safety.

Preventing and Treating Ear Infections Infections of the ear canal or middle ear -- how are they caused, prevented, and treated?

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.




Questions to Ask: Share These With Your Friends

These Consumer Reports posters 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.

Virtual Conversations about Antibiotics


Having conversations about antibiotics and asking the right questions can be hard, both for patients and for healthcare providers. Use these virtual simulations -- playing the role of patient or the healthcare provider -- to practice real-life conversations. The goal is to build skills and, ultimately, to change behavior. These simulations were created by Kognito, with generous support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Please be patient as the simulations load.