The Independent Pharmacy

Can You Get Antibiotics Over the Counter in the UK?

Andy Boysan
Andy BoysanBPharmDirector & Superintendent Pharmacist

Reviewed on 2 Jun 2023

When you're dealing with an infection, antibiotics can be an effective treatment but not all antibiotics are available over the counter. In most cases, antibiotics require a prescription. But with our secure online prescription service, you have the convenience of receiving the appropriate antibiotic treatment delivered directly to your doorstep.

Need further advice? Here we discuss the regulations around getting antibiotics over the counter.

What do antibiotics do?

Antibiotics are used to treat or prevent some types of bacterial infections. They work by killing bacteria or preventing them from reproducing and spreading but aren't effective against viral infections such as the common cold, flu, most coughs and sore throats.

Can I buy antibiotics over the counter?

In the UK the majority of antibiotics can’t be bought over the counter without a prescription. The UK has implemented strict regulations to promote responsible use and address the concerning problem of antibiotic resistance which means a prescription is needed from a qualified pharmacist, GP or specialist for most products.

When it comes to buying antibiotics, getting a professional consultation means you’ll have an accurate diagnosis and medications can be used effectively and responsibly. While certain antibiotic treatments like creams can be obtained over the counter, it's important to note that stronger treatments may necessitate additional consultations with a healthcare professional. By prioritising expert guidance, you can effectively address your specific healthcare needs and ensure the safe and appropriate use of antibiotics.

Is there an antibiotic I can get over the counter?

Whether an antibiotic treatment is available over the counter will depend on the condition it’s treating, the strength of the product and your own health. However, in some cases, such as skin problems, topical antibiotic creams are available over the counter without a prescription. Any antibiotic treatment that is available will typically contain a lower-strength antibiotic that is considered safe to use for topical use.

Common examples include creams for minor skin infections or wounds, such as those containing ingredients like bacitracin or neomycin. However, it is important to note that stronger or prescription-strength antibiotic creams will still require a prescription from a healthcare professional.

When in doubt, it is always advisable to consult with a pharmacist who can provide guidance on the appropriate over-the-counter antibiotic cream for your specific needs.

What can I use instead of antibiotics?

For certain ailments, alternative antibiotic treatments may help alleviate symptoms. However, it's important to note that these options may not effectively treat underlying infections that require proper antibiotic treatment.

Antibiotic alternatives may include:

  • Paracetamol and Ibuprofen can be an effective pain treatment for short-term relief.
  • Small burns, insect bites and wounds can be treated with Germolene Antiseptic Cream.
  • For grazes, stings and small cuts TCP Antiseptic Liquid can aid the healing process and prevent infections.
  • Treat fungal infections such as athlete’s foot and thrush with Canesten 1% Cream.

If you’re unsure what to use instead of antibiotics, ask your GP or pharmacist for further advice.

View Treatment
Ibuprofen 400mg Tablets
Ibuprofen 400mg Tablets
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What happens if you take antibiotics with a viral infection?

Not all ailments require antibiotics. For example, viral infections such as colds can be eased with treatments such as Anadin Extra Tablets or Sudafed Decongestant Tablets but will eventually go away on their own.

Anadin Extra Tablets
Anadin Extra Tablets
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Since antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, taking them when you have a viral infection could cause the antibiotics to attack the bacteria in your body and create antibiotic-resistant properties. This may lower the effectiveness of antibiotic treatments in the future.

Can you take antibiotics without seeing a doctor?

As discussed, there are some antibiotic treatments available without seeing a doctor such as topical treatments, although these may require a consultation beforehand. If you’re in need of a stronger treatment such as a course of oral antibiotics, never purchase these from unsafe websites — antibiotics are prescription medications that should only be taken under the guidance and supervision of a qualified healthcare professional.

A doctor's consultation is crucial to accurately diagnose the condition, determine if antibiotics are necessary, and prescribe the appropriate type and dosage of antibiotics. Taking antibiotics without proper medical supervision can lead to ineffective treatment, potential side effects, and contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance. It’s always recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any antibiotic treatment.

At The Independent Pharmacy, we offer convenient and professional advice for your medical needs. Complete a short assessment today and have the right antibiotic treatment delivered to your home.

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