amwell logo blue with registered tm amwell logo blue with registered tm
Antibiotics: Do You Need Them?

Antibiotics: Do You Need Them?

Written By: Cassandra Aviles on May 19, 2016

[This article was written with Dr. Mia Finkelston, a doctor on Amwell]

It’s understandable that when you’re feeling lousy, you want a quick fix for whatever’s ailing you. But despite what you may think, the best way to feel better may not be through antibiotics. Antibiotics can be a useful and necessary treatment for serious bacterial infections and may even save lives, but only work when taken properly. Remember: antibiotics kill bacteria, they do not kill viruses.

Too often antibiotics are used in unnecessary situations, including when taken to treat a viral infection. In fact, a recent study notes that many antibiotics are unnecessarily over-prescribed for sinus infections, ear infections, throat infections and bronchitis. Even more shocking is that experts say that in one-third of all cases they are not even necessary.

So, when might doctors prescribe antibiotics to patients who log on to Amwell? Dr. Mia Finkelston explains when antibiotics are appropriate for your top health concerns.

Sinus Infection 

Typically, the symptoms of a sinus infection include nasal congestion, runny nose and pressure or pain felt behind the eyes or teeth. While one’s initial instinct might be to request antibiotics, growing research is showing that this is rarely the best course of action. This is because the majority of sinus infections are caused by viruses.

Antibiotics may be prescribed to you if:

  • Your symptoms last longer than ten days
  • Your symptoms are severe enough to interfere with daily living
  • You have a fever higher than 102.2o F lasting more than three days.

Not sure if you have a sinus infection? Our doctors can diagnose and treat you right away.

Ear Infection

For online consultations, ear infections are the most common diagnosis for children in the U.S. Symptoms of an ear infection include: ear pain, fever, loss of hearing, discharge from the ear, tooth pain, irritability, and sometimes vomiting.

Most ear infections clear up in two to three days - controlling pain, drinking fluids and humidifying your air may be sufficient for treating an ear infection, but a doctor might issue you a prescription for antibiotics if:

  • You have a history of frequest ear infections
  • Your fever is higher than 102.2o F, with no other known cause
  • Your pain lasts longer than two days
  • You start to experience nausea, vertigo, hearing loss or recurrent ear pain

Do you suspect you or your child has a bacterial ear infection? Talk to a doctor now to confirm the diagnosis.

Throat Infection

Sore throats sounds like a pretty straight forward topic, but there is some intricacy to it. Many patients think they may need an antibiotic for their sore throats, but nearly 90% of sore throats are caused by a cold or the flu. These are viral infections, so, oftentimes, you don't need an antibiotic.

But a sore throat caused by bacteria — the dreaded strep throat — does require antibiotics to go away. Keep in mind, the more cold-related symptoms you have, the less likely it is that your sore throat is a strep infection. In many cases of strep throat, you may experience:

  • A fever higher than 102.2o F
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Bright red throat or dark red spots on the roof of the mouth at the back near the throat
  • White or yellow spots or coating on the throat and tonsils

If you continue to experience throat pain or excessive coughing for more than a week, it may be time to talk to a doctor to discuss a more aggressive treatment plan.

Need to know if your sore throat is something more serious? Talk to a doctor now.


There are two types of bronchitis. Acute bronchitis appears suddenly and usually lasts up to three weeks, whereas chronic bronchitis causes recurring symptoms that can last for several months.

Long-lasting bronchitis which can be triggered by pneumonia or a chronic respiratory disease, such as, asthma, cystic fibrosis, or bronchiectasis, may be bacterial infections and therefore, can benefit from an antibiotic. It might be time to talk to a doctor about antibiotics if:

  • Your fever is higher than 102.2o F
  • You start to see white spots on your tonsils
  • You pain gets worse after a week
  • You start to cough a thick mucus

Need to talk to a doctor about that lingering cough? Doctors on Amwell are available now.

So before you make that call to try and get a quick fix with antibiotics, make sure they are necessary for treatment with your physician. If you have any questions or concerns about your condition, doctors on Amwell have a deep clinical education and background to offer you the best treatment plan for your road to recovery.

*Doctors on Amwell cannot prescribe elective medications, narcotic pain relievers, muscle relaxants, other drugs listed as controlled substances or prescribe medication that requires an in-person exam.  Check the Amwell availability map to see if your state allows prescriptions via telehealth.