Antibiotics are a very important part of modern
medicine. These drugs are used to fight many
infections caused by bacteria. The following facts
about antibiotics will help you understand how these
drugs work, possible side effects, and the importance
of taking antibiotics as directed by your doctor.
Antibiotics do not work against all infections.
Antibiotics work only against infections that are
caused by bacteria. These drugs are not effective at
all against most viral infections. This is why your
doctor will not always prescribe an antibiotic if you
have an infection.
Some antibiotics are effective against only certain
types of bacteria; others can effectively fight a wide
range of bacteria. Bacterial infections include strep
throat, most (but not all) ear infections, and some
sinus, bladder, and lung infections. Most common
infections (such as colds, bronchitis and sore
throats) are caused by viruses. Antibiotics should not
be used for these viral infections because they don't
help, they may cause side effects, and overuse of
antibiotics contributes to the growing problem of
bacterial resistance (see below). Some viral
infections such as herpes infection, some cases of
influenza, and HIV/AIDS can be treated with antiviral
drugs. Based on your illness and symptoms (and
laboratory tests, if necessary), your doctor can
determine if prescribing an antibiotic is appropriate.
Your doctor will then select the antibiotic that will
work best for your infection.
Antibiotics may cause side effects.
If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, be sure to
ask him or her what possible side effects to watch
for. Antibiotics can cause nausea, diarrhea and
stomach pain. In some people, an allergic reaction
(characterized by rash and itching; or in severe
cases, difficulty breathing) can occur. Some
antibiotics kill naturally occurring bacteria that are
needed by the body; these "good" bacteria
are then replaced by bacteria that can cause diarrhea
or yeast infections. If you experience any side
effects when you are taking an antibiotic, you should
call your doctor.
Bacteria can become resistant to an antibiotic.
Bacteria can become resistant to an antibiotic that
was previously effective. Resistance is most likely to
develop after long-term treatment with an antibiotic
or with antibiotics that kill a wide variety of
bacteria. Resistance is a growing problem, and there
is concern that some types of infections will
eventually not be treatable with antibiotics. This
resistance is ascribed to overuse of antibiotics,
especially for common viral infections.
It is very important that antibiotics be taken
Antibiotics should only be used when prescribed by
your doctor. Consult with your doctor before taking
any other medications (including over-the-counter
medications). You should never take antibiotics given
to you by someone else or prescribed for a previous
illness. Below are three basic guides to help ensure
that your antibiotic treatment will be effective:
The dosage is a very important factor in
If the dosage of the antibiotic is not adequate, it
will not be effective for treatment of the infection
and bacteria are more likely to develop resistance.
This is because the bacteria can continue to grow and
develop ways to disrupt the antibiotic's effects.
Antibiotics must be taken for the full amount of
time prescribed by your doctor.
Many times, patients will stop the use of an
antibiotic when they begin to feel better and it seems
that the illness has gone. However, even after the
symptoms are gone, the bacteria may still be present
in small amounts and an infection can return if use of
the antibiotic is stopped. Not completing the
prescribed dose may also promote resistance.
Antibiotics should not be saved and reused.
You should always take the full course of
antibiotic treatment, so none of the drug should be
"left over." However, if this has occurred
the antibiotics should not be taken to treat any other
illness. Different types of infections require
different types of antibiotics, so taking leftover
medications is often not effective.
Always consult your doctor if you have an
Only your doctor can determine if you have an
infection and the type of antibiotic that will be most
effective and that is safe for you to take.