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:
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.
tranquilizers (such as Valium and Xanax) and sleeping pills (such as Ambien and
Sonata) are widely prescribed. But these medicines can cause problems such as
memory loss, addiction, and loss of balance. In rare cases, people who use them
have done things like drive or eat while they're still asleep. These medicines
also can cause a serious allergic reaction. So it’s important to use them with
Minor tranquilizers can be useful if you use them for a
short time. But long-term use often isn't very helpful, and it increases the
risk of addiction and mental problems.
Sleeping pills may help for
a few days or a few weeks. But if you use them for more than a month, they are
likely to cause more sleep problems than they solve. For other options, see the
Insomnia or Sleeping Better.
If you have been taking
minor tranquilizers or sleeping pills for a while, talk with your doctor. Ask
if you can stop taking the medicine or if you can gradually take less of it
over time. If you have felt unsteady or dizzy, have had any memory loss, or
have had signs of an allergic reaction, tell your doctor.
Side effects. A side effect is any effect other than the one you want. They tend to be mild, but they can
still bother you. In some cases, side effects can be serious.
Allergies. Some people have strong reactions to
some medicines. These reactions can be deadly. To learn the signs of an
allergic reaction, see the topic
Medicine interactions. These happen when two or more medicines
or herbal supplements mix in a person's body and cause a bad reaction. The
symptoms can be severe and may be wrongly diagnosed as a new illness.
Medicine-food interactions. These happen when
medicines react with food. Some drugs work best when you take them with food,
but others should be taken on an empty stomach. Some medicine-food interactions
can cause serious symptoms.
If you take too much of a medicine, it may trigger an adverse reaction. This can especially be a problem for people of small size and older adults. Sometimes the typical adult dose is too much for these people. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
Long-term use of some medicines can lead to dependency. You may have a severe
reaction if you stop taking the medicine all at once. Find out from your doctor if a medicine may be addictive. To learn more,
see the topic
Alcohol and Drug Problems.
Decision Points are designed to guide you through key
health decisions, combining medical information with your personal information
to make a wise health decision. For help in learning the pros and cons of certain medicines, see a list of Decision Points About Medicines.
Getting Rid of Old or Unwanted Medicine
No matter what type of medicine you take, make sure to follow your doctor's advice about how to take it. And find out the safest way to throw away medicines that are expired or no longer used. Use these drug disposal tips to help prevent people and animals from taking medicines that aren't intended for them:
Find out if your local trash and recycle center offers a medicine take-back program. Ask your pharmacist if he or she knows of one. This is the best way to safely throw away medicines.
If there is not a take-back program near you, follow these steps to throw away medicine with the rest of your garbage:
Mix medicine with a substance that doesn't taste good, such as cat litter, sawdust, or coffee grounds. Do not crush tablets or capsules.
Place the mixture in a container, such as a sealed plastic bag.
Put the container in your household trash.
Only a few medicines should be flushed down the sink or toilet if you can't use a take-back program. To see a list from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, go to www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely/EnsuringSafeUseofMedicine/SafeDisposalofMedicines/ucm186187.htm#MEDICINES.
Other Places To Get Help
This website is hosted by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a nonprofit organization. You'll find tips about how to prevent medicine errors at home, at the hospital, and at the pharmacy. You can sign up for safety alerts about your medicines, and you can report medicine safety concerns.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Consumer Health
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20993
This website has health information for
people of all ages. Topics include the following: medicines, food and nutrition, medical
devices, cosmetics, and animal health. Spanish materials are also
Lorig K, et al. (2006). Managing your medicines. In Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions, 3rd ed., pp. 239–253. Boulder, CO: Bull.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2011). Disposal of unused medicines: What you should know. Available online: http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely/EnsuringSafeUseofMedicine/SafeDisposalofMedicines/ucm186187.htm#MEDICINES.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.