Stop prescribing antibiotics for the common cold and other respiratory ailments.

That’s the advice now being given to doctors by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as well as the American College of Physicians (ACP).

The two organizations released a set of guidelines today recommending the use of antibiotics be reduced in outpatient settings.


The groups said the over-prescription of antibiotics is helping create drug-resistant bacteria. They added that many times the antibiotics have little effect on acute respiratory tract infections (ARTI) and may even produce unwanted side effects.

“Inappropriate use of antibiotics for ARTIs is an important factor contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant infections, which is a public health threat,” said Dr. Wayne J. Riley, ACP’s president, in a statement. “Reducing overuse of antibiotics for ARTIs in adults is a clinical priority and a High Value Care way to improve quality of care, lower health care costs, and slow and/or prevent the continued rise in antibiotic resistance.”

Read More: Weakening Antibiotics Could Result in 6,300 More Infection-Related Deaths a Year »

What Doctors Should Do Instead

Respiratory infections such as colds, sore throats, and uncomplicated bronchitis are the most common reasons for visits to the doctor, the groups stated.

They estimated 50 percent of antibiotics prescriptions in outpatient settings may be unnecessary. That adds up to $3 billion in extra costs a year.

The groups provided a list of things doctors should do instead of ordering antibiotics.

For colds, they recommended doctors advise patients that symptoms can last up to two weeks. Patients should follow up only if symptoms worsen or last longer than the specified time. Symptomatic relief using cough suppressants, antihistamines, and decongestants is preferred.

For uncomplicated bronchitis, doctors are urged to not prescribe antibiotics or even perform tests unless pneumonia is expected. Symptomatic relief is also recommended in these cases.

For sore throats, doctors are urged to resist the temptation to prescribe antibiotics unless an ailment such as strep throat is present. They are advised to tell patients that sore throat symptoms can last up to a week. Treatment with aspirin, acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and throat lozenges is preferred.

For sinus infections, CDC and ACP officials say antibiotics should not be prescribed even for people with bacterial infections. Antibiotics should only be prescribed if someone has a fever above 102 degrees, symptoms for more than 10 days or severe symptoms. Once again, symptomatic treatments are urged.

Read More: Antibiotics May Make Superbug MRSA Even Stronger »

Doing Some Harm

Besides the excess cost, CDC and ACP officials list several reasons for reducing the amount of antibiotic prescriptions.

The officials said antibiotics sometimes have more side effects than benefits. They noted antibiotics are the “largest number of medication-related adverse events and the cause of about one in five visits to emergency departments for adverse drug reactions.”

They noted the drugs are also creating “superbugs” that are resistant to medications. Researchers have said that the medical community is creating a cycle in which drug-resistant bacteria keeps adapting every time a new medication is introduced.

CDC and ACP officials are urging physicians and patients to work together to reduce antibiotics prescriptions. They have created a paper that lists appropriate uses of antibiotics and what types of other treatments can be used on respiratory infections.

Read More: Antibiotics Used in Livestock Pose Risk to Children’s Health »