Leftover Antibiotics: Just Say No

If you know me, you know my position on patients who use a few tablets of leftover antibiotics for their cold symptoms before they come to the doctor.

They make me want to scream!

Here are 4 reasons why you should NEVER use leftover antibiotics!

1.  Why do you HAVE leftover antibiotics in the first place?!  When you are prescribed antibiotics, you’re supposed to TAKE THEM ALL!!  Don’t save two pills “for the next time.”

2.  What good do you think two days of amoxicillin is going to do for you?  Is it going to cure your cold symptoms?  Nope.  IF you need antibiotics you need a full course.

3.  You just screwed up my exam findings.  If I had examined you before you started taking the antibiotics, I might have found evidence of a bacterial infection.  Now, however, I have NO way of telling the difference between a viral infection and a partially treated bacterial infection.  Thanks a lot.  You KNOW I don’t have a crystal ball!

4.  Antibiotics have risks.  I know many people think that antibiotics are a cure-all for everything but they aren’t all that safe.

  • Allergic reactions do happen unexpectedly (my husband is a great example but that’s a story for another day).
  • There is a life-threatening form of diarrhea that happens after antibiotic use called C. difficile.  This can become chronic and is happening more and more.
  • Any lady who has developed a yeast infection after taking antibiotics can vouch for the risk.

There are a couple of websites that have good information about when antibiotics are appropriate and when they are not.  Here are some examples:

Mayo Clinic

Centers for Disease Control And Prevention


So what can you do?  There are definitely a few things you can do to avoid antibiotics.


First of all, take a look at whether you’ve really given yourself time to kick the cold symptoms on your own.  Mayo Clinic, above, says antibiotics should only be used for “severe sinus infections lasting longer than 2 weeks.”  Most people who come in to see me for what they believe is a sinus infection have only had symptoms for 2-3 days.

When you feel yourself getting sick with a cold, take good care of yourself!  Get extra rest, eat healthy and drink plenty of (non-caffeinated) fluids.  Consider taking vitamin C or a good echinacea supplement.

Lastly please trust your doctor.  If your doctor examines you and listens to your symptoms and doesn’t find a reason to prescribe an antibiotic, please accept that RIGHT NOW there’s no reason to take one.

If your symptoms don’t get better as expected, though, get in touch with your doctor and bring him or her up to date.  We don’t have a crystal ball, and can’t tell that the cold you had when we saw you a week ago wasn’t going to turn into a terrible ear infection in the future.

QUESTION:  How many times in the last year have you taken antibiotics?


One thought on “Leftover Antibiotics: Just Say No

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.