If you think you have an infection of any type—bacterial, viral, or fungal—talk with your healthcare provider. Some infections will go away without medical intervention. Others will not and can become extremely serious. Ear infections are a good example: Some middle ear infections are caused by a virus and will get better without treatment. However, other middle ear infections caused by bacteria can cause perforated eardrums, or worse, if left untreated.
The decision to use antimicrobials should be left to your healthcare provider. In some cases, antimicrobials will not shorten the course of the disease, but they might reduce your chance of transmitting it to others, as is the case with pertussis (whooping cough).
Antibiotics are designed to kill or slow the growth of bacteria and some fungi. Antibiotics are commonly used to fight bacterial infections but cannot fight against infections caused by viruses.
Antibiotics are appropriate to use when
- There is a known bacterial infection.
- The cause of the infection is unknown and bacteria are suspected. In that case, the consequences of not treating a condition could be devastating (e.g., in early meningitis).
Of note, the color of your sputum (saliva) does not indicate whether you need antibiotics. For example, most cases of bronchitis are caused by viruses. Therefore, a change in sputum color does not indicate a bacterial infection.