Do antibiotics always help against respiratory tract infections?

Severe productive cough? Then find out whether this is caused by a virus or bacteria. Taking antibiotics without good reason can have serious consequences. We explain why.


When someone has a respiratory tract infection, they often wonder whether taking antibiotics is always a sensible course of action. The fact is that antibiotics only work against bacterial infections, such as bacterial pneumonia. They are not effective against viral infections, such as acute bronchitis.

Too many antibiotics are harmful

Anyone who believes you can’t go wrong with a course of antibiotics is mistaken: if you take antibiotics without good reason, you may suffer from symptoms such as nausea and diarrhoea. There is also a danger that the structure of bacteria may evolve, making them undefeatable. This leads to antibiotics suddenly becoming unable to kill bacteria – referred to as antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance is becoming increasingly prevalent

When patients cease to respond to antibiotic treatment, the bacteria in an infection continue to grow in the body unhindered. In an emergency, this can lead to lengthy hospital stays. Antibiotic resistance is responsible for ever-increasing numbers of deaths. In Switzerland, as many people die each year from untreatable bacterial infections as in road accidents.

Therefore, antibiotics should not be taken unthinkingly in cases of acute bronchitis. If a patient has acute bronchitis and their general state of health does not improve or even worsens, a medical examination must be performed in order to rule out bacterial pneumonia.

Further information

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