GPs have been told to slash the number of antibiotic prescriptions they write for common coughs and colds.
Prescriptions for the symptoms of respiratory tract infections account for 60% of all such prescriptions in general practice – with a quarter of the UK population presenting to their GP with them every year.
Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) have said doctors should hold back from prescribing antibiotics straight off for respiratory infections in children and adults.
The body argues that the overprescribing of antibiotics has been linked to the development of "superbugs", which become resistant to most forms of the drug.
They also assert that antibiotics have limited effectiveness in treating most tract infections and complications are rare if antibiotics are withheld.
The new guidance said doctors should tell patients suffering ear infections, sore throats, sinus trouble and coughs and colds that they do not need antibiotics or offer them a delayed prescription.
It said doctors may wish to prescribe straight away for children younger than two, where there is evidence of complications, or where pre-existing conditions that could make things worse, including heart, lung, kidney or liver disease. Patients older than 65 with a cough and other ailments such as diabetes or heart failure, or those over 80 with a cough and another ailment or previous problems, should also get them.
Mike Sharland, consultant paediatrician and guideline development group member, said: "Every year, over five million antibiotics are prescribed for children in the community - the great majority for upper respiratory tract infections which are nearly always viral."