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Q: Can I take antibiotics for a cold?

If you have a cold, you might want to try anything to feel better. But it’s not a good idea to take antibiotics. That’s because, while colds are caused by viruses, antibiotics treat infections that are caused by bacteria. Antibiotics will have no effect on a cold virus whatsoever.

You might think there’s no harm in taking antibiotics anyway, but that’s not true. That’s because, over time, taking antibiotics unnecessarily can cause it to become less effective, as the bacteria adapt and become resistant. When that happens, the drug might not work when you really need it someday.

Before COVID, it was much easier to distinguish a common cold from the flu, or RSV. Now with COVID, it is always best to get tested if you have symptoms consistent with COVID, even if they could also be symptoms of a cold or the flu. COVID is also a virus and cannot be treated with antibiotics. Once you rule out COVID, the best remedy may be drinking lots of liquids and getting lots of rest.

If your cold lasts longer than a week or becomes more severe, please make an appointment with your doctor right away. It might be a sign that it has developed into a bacterial infection that does need antibiotics. At Maui Memorial Medical Center, our Emergency Department is extremely busy with COVID, flu, and RSV patients who have severe symptoms and need emergency care. We are also seeing a lot of patients who have not taken the best care of themselves over the past few years and one or more of their medical issues have worsened. Please don’t delay care - avoid a trip to the ER by talking to your doctor right away about your symptoms and the best way to treat your illness.