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KAW gif TwitterAntibiotics are medicines that treat bacterial infections by killing or preventing the spread of that infection. They are only prescribed when:

  • conditions are unlikely to clear up without them
  • the condition could spread to others
  • antibiotics could significantly speed up recovery
  • the illness is serious.

Antibiotics are not prescribed for viral infections such as colds or flu because they are not effective in fighting these types of illnesses. Viral infections can be treated with a combination of self-care and over the counter medicines.

In recent years we have strayed away from over-prescribing antibiotics because this can lead to ‘superbugs’ – resistant strains of bacteria. If you overuse antibiotics they are less likely to work for you in the future, and this can lead to severe complications.

Using antiobiotics properly to stay well

  • Only take antibiotics that have been precribed for you
  • Take the recommended dose
  • Only take antibiotics if they are in date

If you have any questions about any of your antibiotic prescriptions, you should visit your local pharmacist. They will be able to answer any questions you have and give you advice.

If you believe that you have a bacterial infection, we recommend that you call NHS 111 or visit your local pharmacist for advice.

How long should my symptoms last for?


Possible signs of serious illness requiring urgent assessment

  1. If your skin is very cold or has a strange colour, or you develop an unusual rash.
  2. If you feel confused or have slurred speech or are very drowsy.
  3. If you have difficulty breathing. Signs can include:
    • breathing quickly
    • turning blue around the lips and the skin below the mouth
    • skin between or above the ribs getting sucked or pulled in with every breath.
  4. If you develop a severe headache and are sick.
  5. If you develop chest pain.
  6. If you have difficulty swallowing or are drooling.
  7. If you cough up blood.
  8. If you are feeling a lot worse.

If you or your child has any of these symptoms, are getting worse or are sicker than you would expect (even if your/their temperature falls), trust your instincts and seek medical advice urgently from NHS 111 or your GP. If a child under the age of 5 has any of symptoms 1–3, go to your nearest Emergency Departtment immediately or call 999.

Further information and resources