Antibiotics: When You Need Them, When You Don’t

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 8:21 AM

AntibioticsSome of the most common illnesses that send us to the doctor’s office can be easily treated with medications; however, there isn’t an easy, one-stop solution for every sniffle, cough or infection.

While antibiotics are one of the most frequently prescribed medications for a variety of conditions, they are not a cure-all for everything. In fact, for many common illnesses caused by viruses (flu, colds and sore throats), antibiotics are not recommended. So when do you know if an antibiotic will help relieve symptoms?

Dirk Killelea, Manager of the NorthShore Evanston Hospital Pharmacy, offers his insight on antibiotics, including when you should take them and when you shouldn’t:

  • Antibiotics are most effective in the treatment of illnesses caused by bacteria, which can include sinus infections and strep throat. They should not be prescribed or taken for viral infections such as the common cold, as this can lead to the build-up of a tolerance, also called resistance, within some forms of bacteria and will not improve symptoms.  This resistance makes it harder to treat bacterial infections later.
  • Follow prescription instructions. Make sure you take the antibiotic the prescribed number of times per day. It is also very important to take an antibiotic for the duration of the prescription time, even if you are feeling better. Stopping treatment too soon may not allow sufficient time to get the bacteria out of your system.   Additionally, not finishing the full course of an antibiotic prescription can lead to increased resistance among bacteria. If you are told by your physician to stop an antibiotic before it has finished, however, always dispose of them properly.
  • Don’t share medications. Even if you’re certain you have a sinus infection and someone in your family had a similar infection recently, don’t use their antibiotics. What you are experiencing may not be the same infection, or even an infection that requires treatment.  This can cause more problems related to bacterial resistance.
  • Ask Questions.  Let your pharmacist or physician know any concerns or questions you have before taking antibiotics.  If you have read information from an online source about an antibiotic, verify any questions with a healthcare professional. Make sure to tell him or her what over-the-counter medications you use as well as any new prescriptions that you may have started recently.
  • Do your part.  If you are feeling sick and are prescribed antibiotics, make sure to get plenty of rest, keep drinking fluids and eat a balanced diet. Antibiotics can only do so much, it’s up to you to keep yourself rested and help the medicine do its job.

How frequently do you take antibiotics?

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