Why doesn't my doctor prescribe me an antibiotic for the common cold?

The common cold is a benign, self-limiting illness. It is the most common acute illness seen in the United States. Symptoms can be mild to variable degrees of congestion, nasal drainage, sore throat, sneezing, cough, low-grade fever and fatigue. It is important to distinguish these symptoms from other forms of illness that could be influenza, strep throat, allergies, sinusitis, bronchitis, or even pertussis. On average, preschool aged children can have 5-7 viral illnesses in a year and 2-3 episodes per year up to adulthood.

Treatment of the common cold is supportive care. Thankfully, many of these remedies and treatments are available over-the-counter and include nasal sprays and decongestants to help with congestion, cough suppressants and expectorants for cough. Antibiotics, antivirals and steroids pose more harm than benefit in these cases and are therefore not recommended.

Prevention of viral illness are simple and inexpensive. Regular exercise, avoiding smoking (first and second hand), hand washing, and wearing a face mask with travel are methods which have been proven to aid in prevention of getting a cold.

So the next time your provider does not recommend an antibiotic for your cold, try out some great over the counter treatments and wash your hands to help prevent the spread of infection.

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