Can You Buy Antibiotics Over the Counter?

Prescription Drugs

Can You Buy Antibiotics Over the Counter?

Jennifer Hadley
By Jennifer Hadley
Jan 17, 2018 - Updated Apr 09, 2021
Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS
Medically Reviewed ByCarina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS
Can You Buy Antibiotics Over the Counter?

Antibiotics are used to treat a variety of bacterial infections. Examples of bacterial infections include ear infections, skin infections, sinus infections, urinary tract infections, and some respiratory infections. Since antibiotics are frequently prescribed medications for infections, you may be wondering: can you buy antibiotics over the counter? The answer is no. Under federal law, all antibiotics require a prescription from a health care provider.

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Why do antibiotics require a prescription?

Antibiotics require a prescription for three main reasons. First, each time an antibiotic is used, there is a risk of developing antibiotic resistance for future infections. Second, antibiotics require a prescription due to the risk of potential side effects. Third, if you take the wrong antibiotic or take one when it’s not needed, an infection may worsen or you could experience an allergic reaction.

What is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance refers to a situation where bacteria do not respond to the drugs that are designed to kill them. Bacteria can and do evolve. If antibiotic resistance takes root, simple infections can become potentially life-threatening. Antibiotic stewardship, or the way the drugs are prescribed or used, is critical to ensure that antibiotic resistance doesn’t develop.

The potential for overusing or misusing antibiotics, if they were available over the counter, could lead to the evolution of superbugs, which could be challenging to treat.

Can you buy antibiotics over the counter?

No, you cannot buy antibiotics over the counter. Your health care provider must write you a prescription to get filled at the pharmacy. Be sure you shop around for the price of your antibiotic, before filling and paying for it.

Commonly Prescribed Antibiotics

There are more than 100 types of antibiotics. Each antibiotic is designed to be effective against specific bacteria. Your health care provider will determine the most likely type of bacteria causing your infection and prescribe the appropriate antibiotic to stop the growth of the bacteria.

Some antibiotics may be effective against all of the potential types of bacteria responsible for your infection, which is why some antibiotics are prescribed more frequently than others. The 10 most commonly prescribed antibiotics can fight a variety of bacterial infections.

10 Most Commonly Prescribed Antibiotics and RxSaver Prices

Medication Lowest Price for Common Dosages*
Amoxicillin $4.86
Amoxicillin/Clavulanate $22.07
Azithromycin $10.20
Cephalexin $10.66
Ciprofloxacin $47.96
Clindamycin $21.02
Doxycycline Hyclate $16.85
Levofloxacin $16.88
Metronidazole $4.97
Sulfamethoxazole/Trimethoprim $10.73


Amoxicillin is a penicillin-type of antibiotic which stops the growth of certain bacteria. It is used to treat dozens of types of bacterial infections. Amoxicillin is sometimes combined with other medications to treat h. pylori, a bacteria that can cause stomach or intestinal ulcers.


Amoxicillin/clavulanic is the generic for the brand name drug Augmentin. Amoxicillin/clavulanic is a penicillin-type antibiotic used to treat a wide range of bacterial infections, including skin infections, bacterial pneumonia, bacterial sinusitis, and urinary tract infections (UTI).


Azithromycin is a versatile antibiotic, which treats infections ranging from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to traveler’s diarrhea, to certain types of pneumonia. It is commonly referred to as a “Z-Pak.” Azithromycin is categorized as a macrolide-type antibiotic, which works by stopping the growth of bacteria.


Cephalexin is generic for the commonly prescribed antibiotic, Keflex. Cephalexin is frequently used to treat bacterial ear infections, bacterial prostatitis, and strep throat. Cephalexin is a type of antibiotic known as a cephalosporin antibiotic.


Ciprofloxacin is a commonly prescribed antibiotic that is prescribed to treat dozens of bacterial infections. Often referred to as Cipro, Ciprofloxacin is used to treat both common and rare infections, ranging from bacterial diarrhea, to plague. Ciprofloxacin belongs to a class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones.


Clindamycin treats numerous rare bacterial infections, such as bacterial sepsis and severe malaria. Clindamycin is also used to treat common bacterial infections such as acne vulgaris, sinusitis, and certain types of pneumonia. Clindamycin belongs to the class of antibiotics known as lincomycin antibiotics.

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Doxycycline hyclate is commonly prescribed because it is effective in treating many types of bacterial infections ranging from acne to malaria. Doxycycline belongs to a class of drugs known as tetracycline antibiotics.


Levofloxacin is a commonly prescribed antibiotic used to treat multiple types of bacterial infections. It belongs to a class of antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones. Levofloxacin may be prescribed to treat kidney or prostate infections, bronchitis, or certain sinus infections.


Metronidazole is used to treat digestive infections and vaginal bacteria infections. Metronidazole belongs to a drug class known as nitroimidazoles. Metronidazole is the generic for the brand drug Flagyl.


Sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim combines two antibiotics in one to treat a variety of bacterial infections of the intestines and respiratory systems, as well as urinary tract infections (UTI). Sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim may also be prescribed to prevent certain types of pneumonia. It is the generic form of the brand drug Bactrim.

How to Afford Antibiotics

To better afford antibiotics, always ask your health care provider for a generic. Generic antibiotics are up to 85% less expensive than their brand-name counterpart.

Then, use RxSaver to find the best antibiotic prices at various pharmacies near you. The same medications can have very different costs at different pharmacies. To use RxSaver, simply type in the name of your antibiotic on the RxSaver website or the free RxSaver mobile app. The results will show you which pharmacy has the best pricing when you use the RxSaver coupon.

Finally, remember that even if you have health insurance, you should compare the RxSaver coupon price to your insurance copay. In some cases, the coupon price may beat your insurance copay responsibility.

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley

Jen Hadley is a freelance writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, who writes extensively about the medical, legal, health care, and consumer products industries. Jen is a regular contributor to RxSaver.

Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS

Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS

Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS., is a pharmacist who earned her PharmD from St. John’s University in Queens, NY. She maintains an active practice, serving as a Board-Certified Pediatric Pharmacotherapy Specialist at a large metropolitan teaching hospital in New York City. Carina has also published in pharmacy journals and works as a consultant reviewing medical articles for publication.

The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

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