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OTC Antibiotics: Can I Get Antibiotics Over The Counter At A Pharmacy?

Do you need a prescription for antibiotics? This article takes you through the basics on antibiotics and whether they’re available over the counter.

Antibiotics are a common and frequently prescribed medication. So you’re probably wondering why you can’t seem to just get over the counter antibiotics.

From treating UTIs and STIs, ear infections, and gastric infections – antibiotics are obviously some of the most effective (fast-acting) remedies against harmful bacteria. And since there are so many different kinds of bacteria (that constantly evolve), and just as many antibiotics to treat them, you need a healthcare professional to prescribe the right kind for you.

This article explores which antibiotics are available over the counter, and which ones you need a prescription for.

Can You Get Antibiotics Over The Counter?

Antibiotics are also known as antibacterials.
And if you don’t already know, these are powerful medications that destroy bacteria or slow their growth. They’re not used to treat viral infections.

While some kinds of antibiotics are available over the counter, in general, over the counter (OTC) oral antibiotics aren’t approved in most countries across the globe, like the United Kingdom and the United States. And most pharmacies will not dispense oral antibiotic medication without a valid prescription from a doctor.

Keep in mind, you can try other OTC medications before trying antibiotics.
For instance, other over the counter medications can treat the symptoms of urinary tract infections. Although, this medication might only be enough to keep the symptoms at bay. So, if the issues persist, you should consult with a doctor to see if you need antibiotics to get rid of the infection.  

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Are There Antibiotics You Can Get Over The Counter?

Yes, you can get some kinds of antibiotics over the counter at most local drugstores and pharmacies. Topical antibiotics are available over the counter.
Note: Stronger antibiotics like oral antibiotics require a prescription from a healthcare professional.

Antibiotics are administered in different ways. Some are less invasive than others.

Four types of antibiotic administration include:

  • Topical – some over the counter availability.
  • Oral – requires a prescription.
  • Intravenous (IV) – requires a prescription.
  • Intramuscular (IM) – requires a prescription.

Oral, intravenous, and intramuscular antibiotics aren’t available over the counter.
Oral antibiotics (used to treat bacterial infections) are taken like most pills – in your mouth.

Some common bacterial infections include:

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Strep throat
  • Certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Severe skin infections like Cellulitis
  • Dental infections
  • Pneumonia

Topical antibiotics are less invasive, and many are available over the counter. These are creams that are applied directly onto the skin to treat minor wounds like scrapes, burns, and acne.

Some topical over the counter antibiotics include:

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

Topical antibiotics also have generic brands available.
But there are also stronger topical antibiotics which require a prescription, like Mupirocin. These are used to treat more severe infections that aren’t responding to OTC antibiotics.

What Are The Most Commonly Prescribed Antibiotics?

There are over 100 types of antibiotics. Each of these have different treatment indicators.
Some common antibiotics include:

  • Amoxicillin
  • Azithromycin
  • Ceftriaxone
  • Clindamycin
  • Levofloxacin
  • Metronidazole
  • Piperacillin/tazobactam

Like all medications, antibiotics have benefits as well as risks of use.
Antibiotics, in particular, can cause issues like gut microbiome disturbance, with side effects like vomiting and interactions with other medications you’re taking. Because of the complexities of oral antibiotic use, it’s no surprise that you need a prescription from a medical doctor.

Can I Get Antibiotics Without Seeing A Doctor?

You can’t get oral antibiotics, like amoxicillin and penicillin without a prescription from a doctor. That said, you’re able to get antibiotics without having to go to a doctor’s clinic.

You can schedule a telemedicine consultation to get a prescription for antibiotics from the comfort of your home or hotel room. During an online consultation, a doctor can diagnose your infection and identify an appropriate treatment, including antibiotics if necessary. Usually, the prescription is sent electronically, so you can get it filled at the nearest pharmacy.

Can I Get Antibiotics Over The Counter Anywhere In The World?

We’d love to be able to say you could, but unfortunately that’s not the case. Here are a few countries that have regulations prohibiting over-the-counter dispensing of antibiotics:

  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Germany
  • France
  • Japan
  • Italy
  • Spain
  • South Korea

These rules are in place to prevent the misuse of antibiotics and combat antibiotic resistance. If you’re unsure, it’s always a good idea to check the laws in your country (or the country you’re traveling to)

Why Do You Need A Prescription For Oral Antibiotics?

  • Overuse and misuse of antibiotics: Taking oral antibiotics when it’s not necessary can cause harm to people and can build up resistance to antibiotics.
  • Different antibiotics treat different bacteria, and you’d need to know which bacteria you were treating in order to correctly purchase an antibiotic over the counter, something best left to a licensed physician to determine.
  • Antibiotics have side effects and could interact with other medications and medical conditions. Trained doctors can ensure you’re not taking an antibiotic that could be dangerous.

Book An Appointment Through The Air Doctor App

If needed, Air Doctor’s professional doctors can prescribe antibiotics. Simply book a consultation to speak to one of our trusted (extensively vetted) doctors and get the treatment you need.

Just use the Air Doctor app to find one – anywhere, anytime.

Air Doctor gives you:

  • Access to over 20,000 multi-lingual doctors worldwide
  • Choice of clinic, at-home (hotel), and video visits
  • Local, valid prescriptions through our cross-border services
  • Quality medical care, including urgent visits
  • 24/7 multi-lingual customer support
  • Video consultation services in up to 21 languages
  • Partnered with leading insurance providers

Download the app, just in case.


Jenny Cohen Drefler

Jenny Cohen Derfler

Air Dr CEO & Co-Founder

Jenny is the CEO and one of the Co-Founders at Air Doctor. She spent more than 20 years at Intel, most recently as general manager of its manufacturing facility in Israel and before that in various engineering and manufacturing roles in Silicon Valley. Air Doctor is her second startup having previously founded electric vehicle company ElectRoad.