Antibiotics are drugs that kill
bacteria. But they only work against bacteria. They don't kill viruses, so they
won't work against a cold, the flu, or another viral illness. Unless you have a
bacterial infection, it's best to avoid the possible harmful effects of
antibiotics, which may include:
- Side effects.
Antibiotics can cause nausea and diarrhea and can make you more sensitive to
sunlight. Most of these common side effects are mild. But some side effects,
allergic reactions, can be severe. They can cause
shortness of breath or even death. If you have an unexpected reaction to an
antibiotic, tell your doctor.
- Other infections. Antibiotics kill most of
the bacteria in your body that are sensitive to them, even the "good" bacteria
that help your body. Antibiotics can ruin the balance of bacteria in your body,
leading to an upset stomach, diarrhea, a vaginal infection, or other problems.
- Bacterial resistance. If you take antibiotics when you do not need them, they may not work when you do need them. Each time you take
antibiotics, you are more likely to have some bacteria that the medicine
doesn't kill. Over time, these bacteria change and become harder to kill. They
become resistant to the medicine. The antibiotics that used to kill them no
If you and your doctor decide that you need an antibiotic,
carefully follow the instructions for taking the medicine.
- Take the whole dose for as many days as your
doctor tells you to, unless you have side effects you did not expect (in which
case, call your doctor).
- Be sure you know any special
instructions for taking the medicine. They should be printed on the label, but
it’s also a good idea to check with your doctor and pharmacist.
- Keep antibiotics in a cool, dry place. Check the label to see if
you should store them in the refrigerator.
- Never give an
antibiotic prescribed for one person to someone else.
- Do not save
any extra antibiotics. And do not take one prescribed for another illness
unless your doctor tells you it is okay. Ask your pharmacist about how to
safely throw away your leftover medicine.
For more information, see the topic Using Antibiotics Wisely.
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Theresa O'Young, PharmD - Clinical Pharmacy
March 9, 2012
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