Why antibiotics don’t help with colds?

Why antibiotics don’t help with colds?

Prescribing antibiotics always raises many questions. How do they work and what diseases are needed? Why do not help with a cold? If you have a fever, is it time to run to the pharmacy for potent drugs?

How antibiotics work

Antibiotics are drugs that can inhibit the growth or cause death of certain pathogens. They are used for infectious diseases of a bacterial nature (when bacteria are the cause of the disease).

All antibiotics have one task: to prevent bacteria from developing. Some groups of antibiotics kill bacteria, others stop their intensive reproduction and growth.

In structure, bacterial cells differ from the cells of our body – they are more multilayered and assembled from other materials, if I may say so. Due to this, the active substances of antibiotics can act on bacterial cells with different intensities. They destroy their cell walls or disrupt the formation of substances necessary for the life of the bacteria. Each antibiotic acts on a specific group of bacteria and should be prescribed strictly in accordance with the causative agent of the disease. Broad-spectrum antibiotics that can affect a large number of bacteria are usually reserve drugs.

When are antibiotics really needed?

Antibiotics are indicated only when you have a bacterial infection and it actively affects your body. Most often, you will understand this by strong and unusual symptoms – from a long-lasting high temperature to vomiting and other unpleasant effects. In any case, only a doctor can decide whether to use antibiotics.

Actually, precisely for this reason, antibiotics will not help with colds, flu or other acute respiratory viral infections: they do not prevent the virus from developing. In such cases, taking antibiotics is not only useless, but also harmful: antibiotics upset the balance of the “good” bacteria of our microflora, one of the functions of which is to protect against foreign infectious agents.

When to drink antibiotics

When a doctor selects an antibacterial drug, he evaluates the symptoms and location of the infection, based on which he suggests what you are sick with. The most accurate way to determine is a laboratory analysis of the biological fluid of the patient, which allows you to determine the content of a specific type of bacteria. However, due to the fact that such an analysis is done for a long time, and the treatment of the disease should be started as early as possible (while the number of constantly multiplying bacteria is minimal), waiting for the result of bacteriological studies is often not justified. Therefore, the antibiotic is prescribed according to the alleged pathogen and, if necessary, after receiving the result of the analysis, the drug is adjusted.

This is not to say that the medicine is chosen intuitively: there are a number of approved clinical recommendations that, depending on the location of the infection, the severity of symptoms and the type of pathogen, help to choose the necessary course of antibacterial therapy.

In the first 2-3 days after the start of taking the antibiotic, the temperature should drop, and other symptoms become easier. If this does not happen, consult a doctor to replace the drug.

Why do antibiotics stop working

The question arises, why not take antibiotics of a wide spectrum of action for any disease, because they are effective against many types of bacteria. The fact is that bacteria learn quickly and can overcome the attack of antibiotics, inventing ever new methods of protection. Some bacteria have learned to produce enzymes that destroy the antibiotic molecule, others can modify the chemical structure of the drug and interfere with its interaction with the components of the bacterial cell.

Bacteria have very high genetic plasticity, so if the bacteria have learned to repel an antibiotic attack, their drug is no longer scary for their offspring. Resistance acquired in this way (resistance of bacteria to drugs) is a serious problem that requires constant scientific development and research. Therefore, the doctor must definitely have a drug with a stronger effect, which overcomes the bacterial defense mechanisms or acts on new targets.

For the same reason, antibiotics should not be used in a chaotic mode. By violating the recommendations on the duration of admission or prematurely interrupting the course of antibiotics, we train the bacteria and contribute to the survival of the most stable variants. Even a small residual bacteria surviving the attack can spread and infect other people. The use of antibacterial soap and napkins outside the walls of the hospital or outside particularly dangerous epidemic areas also does not work in favor of humanity.

It is important to understand that it is not a person who becomes resistant to antibiotics, but a group of bacteria that can spread and infect any inhabitant of the planet. Such infections will not yield to standard therapy, which is fraught not only with increased medical costs, but also with the complete helplessness of doctors.

Over the past few years, WHO has been seriously concerned about this problem: the results of the «Antibiotics: Handle with Care» study conducted in 12 countries in 2015 showed that awareness of the problem of resistance is quite low, which is why the organization annually holds in November the World Week for the Proper Use of Antibiotics.


  1. An antibiotic can only be prescribed by a qualified doctor.
  2. It is necessary to take the full course of the antibiotic, even with the apparent relief of symptoms.
  3. Don’t share antibiotics with relatives and friends.
  4. It is better to pay attention to the prevention of diseases through personal hygiene: wash your hands regularly, avoid contact with patients and get vaccinated in a timely manner.
  5. It is necessary to observe hygiene standards when preparing and storing food.

The main thing to remember is that each of us can contribute to the fight against antibiotic resistance, and this is not at all difficult: consult a doctor and follow his instructions. And certainly do not take antibiotics on your own initiative.


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