Consumers and carers

Coughs, colds and sore throats

Antibiotics aren’t likely to help coughs, colds or sore throats. Download a factsheet about treating respiratory infections here.

If you have a viral infection of the ear, nose, throat, sinuses or chest, antibiotics won’t make you feel better or recover faster. Talk to your healthcare provider about why you probably don’t need antibiotics.

Do you need medicine?

Coughs, colds, earaches, sinus congestion problems and sore throats are usually caused by a virus. Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses. Colds usually get better in 7 to 10 days, although a cough can last up to 3 weeks.

Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them can have unwanted results.

When antibiotics are necessary, the benefits far outweigh the risks, but when they are not needed, you are taking an unnecessary risk. People taking an antibiotic may experience side effects such as diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting. Unnecessary use of antibiotics can also lead to antibiotic resistance

This means that antibiotics are no longer effective against the bacteria they once killed. If you have an antibiotic-resistant infection you:

  • will have the infection for longer
  • may be more likely to have complications of the infection
  • could remain infectious for longer and pass your infection to other people.

What can you do?


Allow your immune system to fight off the virus.

Use home remedies

Inhale steam from a bath or shower in a closed room to help relieve a blocked nose. Don’t inhale steam from a bowl of hot water due to the risk of burns. Soothe your sore throat by gargling warm salty water, sucking ice cubes or throat lozenges as needed or drinking warm water with honey and lemon.

Use symptom-relieving medicines

Take over-the-counter (non-prescription) medicines such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve your pain or fever. Use a nasal or oral decongestant to relieve a blocked nose. Cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under 6 years of age and should only be given to children aged 6 to 11 years on the advice of a doctor, pharmacist or nurse practitioner. Saline nasal spray or drops may be used in children.

It's OK to ask questions

If you have questions about your symptoms or your medicines, speak with your doctor or other healthcare provider.

5 Questions

5 questions to ask your doctor or other healthcare provider to make sure you end up with the right amount of care.

Find out more