Can You Get Antibiotics Over the Counter?

Antibiotics are a very well-known medication used to treat bacterial infections such as strep throat, UTIs, or ear infections. Despite the large number of medications available over the counter (OTC), though, very few antibiotics are included. In fact, only a few topical antibiotics are available OTC, and the rest require a prescription.

Because of the hundreds of antibiotics available, a doctor is needed to prescribe the correct one for you based on your infection, medical conditions, and other medications that you are taking. However, a doctor’s visit isn’t required to receive this prescription, with online doctors offering a convenient way to receive your prescription.

What Are Antibiotics?

Antibiotics are a type of medicine used to fight bacterial infections. They can have two mechanisms of action: making it hard for the bacteria to grow and multiply or killing the bacteria.

There are different ways to take antibiotics, such as orally (pills, liquids, capsules), topically (cream, ointment, spray, eye drops, ear drops), and injection/intravenously. In general, injections or intravenous administration of antibiotics are used only for serious infections.

Not all infections require antibiotics, though, and taking them when they are not needed can cause unpleasant side effects.

Antibiotic Uses

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, with some common infections requiring antibiotics to be:

  • urinary tract infections
  • strep throat
  • E. coli
  • acne
  • conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • bronchitis
  • traveler’s diarrhea
  • otitis media (ear infection)
  • bacterial pneumonia
  • bladder and kidney infections
  • sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • meningitis
  • vaginal infections
  • sinus infections
  • gum disease and dental infections
  • skin or soft tissue infection
  • upper respiratory tract infection

Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections, though. This means that you should not take antibiotics if you have a:

  • sore throat (unless it is strep throat)
  • cold
  • flu
  • bronchitis (most cases)

Common Antibiotics

There are hundreds of antibiotics, each able to treat different infections.

An antibiotic is designed to be effective against a particular type of bacteria, which is why discussing your condition with a doctor can help to determine the best antibiotic for your needs.

Some antibiotics are prescribed more often than others, though, because they are effective against multiple bacteria, not just one.

Some common antibiotics include:

These antibiotics have many purposes, including stopping bacterial growth, treating infections in a specific area of the body (e.g., digestive tract, lungs), or as a preventative before surgery.

Can You Buy Antibiotics Over the Counter?

There are some antibiotics that are available over the counter, but most of them require a doctor’s prescription.

What Kind of Antibiotics Can You Get Over the Counter?

The antibiotics most often available over the counter are topical antibiotics, and this is because they are not as strong of an antibiotic. You will need a prescription if you need a stronger antibiotic, such as an oral antibiotic.

Some examples of topical over-the-counter antibiotics include:

  • Polysporin (bacitracin/polymyxin B)
  • Neosporin (bacitracin/neomycin/polymyxin B)
  • Proactive/clear skin (benzoyl peroxide)
  • Neosporin Plus (neomycin/polymyxin B/pramoxine)

However, not all topical antibiotics are available OTC; some stronger varieties require a doctor’s prescription.

Additionally, even though these antibiotics are not as strong as prescription antibiotics, there is still some damage that can occur from using them when they are not required. Namely, they can irritate your skin. Because of this, it is best to consult a medical professional even when using OTC antibiotics.

Why Do Most Antibiotics Require a Prescription?

A prescription is needed to obtain a majority of antibiotics, and this is because antibiotics can work differently for each person, with side effects varying from person to person. Antibiotics can also interact with other medications you are taking or medical conditions that you are diagnosed with.

A doctor is able to consider your individual case when prescribing antibiotics to choose the ideal dosage and length of treatment to minimize side effects. They will also consider your other medications and medical conditions to ensure that the antibiotic prescribed is safe.

Most antibiotics also require a prescription because there are risks in overusing and misusing them. Taking oral antibiotics, even though you don’t need them, can destroy the good bacteria in your body, setting off a slew of consequences. Additionally, misusing antibiotics increases the chances of certain bacteria becoming antibiotic-resistant, which makes it much harder to treat them when needed.

A doctor is trained to recognize when antibiotics are needed or when they are not necessary.

Additionally, antibiotics are not a “one size fits all” medication. Different antibiotics treat different bacteria, so you would need to know which antibiotic to take for your condition for it to be effective. This is best left for your doctor to determine.

Can You Get Antibiotics Without Seeing a Doctor?

Without talking to a doctor, you cannot get most antibiotics, including oral antibiotics and higher-strength topical varieties. However, you can get antibiotics without seeing a doctor in person.

Antibiotics are some of the medications approved for prescription via telehealth services, meaning you are able to receive the prescription without having to go to a doctor’s office.

How Can DrHouse Help You?

With DrHouse, you can meet with an online doctor in just 15 minutes for a consultation. During this time, you can discuss your symptoms and concerns, and if your doctor determines that your symptoms would benefit from an antibiotic, they can provide an online prescription. Without having you leave your house, you can gain the prescription you need.

Key Takeaways

Antibiotics are a type of medication used to treat bacterial infections. There are hundreds of antibiotics that treat a wide range of conditions, with certain antibiotics working best on certain bacteria. Some conditions that are treatable with antibiotics include strep throat, bacterial pneumonia, UTIs, and some STDs.

A majority of antibiotics are only available with a prescription, with some weaker topical antibiotics available OTC. Most antibiotics require a prescription, though, to ensure there is no antibiotic misuse and to decrease the risk of medication interactions.

While you need a prescription to get an antibiotic, you do not have to see a doctor in person. With online doctors, you can receive a consultation and antibiotic prescription all from the comfort of your home.

Sources

DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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