by Lindsay Rumold PharmD, BCPS, and Erica Wilson PharmD, BCPS
As seen in Odessa American’s Medical Matters:
Do the medications amoxicillin, azithromycin, cephalexin or ciprofloxacin ring any bells? These are among the most prescribed antibiotics in the United States. And, chances are, you or someone you know has received a prescription for one of these before. Antibiotics can be very helpful medications … but there are also risks that exist when antibiotics are used in the wrong way.
Antibiotics are medications used to treat bacterial infections such as strep throat, sinus infections and some pneumonias. Antibiotics should not be used to treat viral infections such as the common cold, most coughs and the flu. When antibiotics are used for viral infections, the infection will not be cured, it will not help you feel better and others can still catch the virus. No harm in trying the antibiotic though right? Wrong! Antibiotics are not always the answer! Remember – there are potential risks when taking any medication, so antibiotics should only be used when the doctor determines they are needed. Antibiotics can cause side effects like nausea or diarrhea, or can result in an allergic reaction. When antibiotics are used in the wrong way, the use may contribute to antibiotic-resistant infections. Antibiotic resistance is when bacteria change and become stronger and harder to kill, usually requiring stronger treatment and possibly a hospital stay. Development of resistance is a real concern, and is why healthcare providers are being more careful when prescribing antibiotics.
Using antibiotics wisely is not just the job of providers. There are things you can do to help prevent resistance as well! First of all is to understand that antibiotics are only useful for bacterial infections. Also, it is important to ask your doctor questions when they prescribe you an antibiotic. Ask questions such as, “What kind of infection do I have?” and “Are these antibiotics necessary?” It is important that you understand your illness and if antibiotics are the correct option. Please do not insist that your doctor give you an antibiotic if it is not appropriate. Never take someone else’s prescribed antibiotics. Do not keep and use past prescriptions as they may not be right for your type of infection, can contribute to resistance and can cause side effects or drug interactions your doctor or pharmacist would not be monitoring. Practicing good hand hygiene can help prevent the spread of germs. Lastly, it is important to always complete the full course of antibiotics, even if you feel better! If the antibiotic prescription is not finished, not all of the illness-causing bacteria are treated and resistance may develop.
Antibiotics have been the first line of defense against infections since the 1940s. They are very powerful in treating bacterial infections when they are used properly … which is the responsibility of healthcare providers and YOU!
Did you know?
- The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than half of all antibiotics prescribed are not necessary.
- Some medications, foods and even alcohol can interact badly with antibiotics. Discuss with your pharmacist all medications you take when filling a new antibiotic prescription and ask whether you should take the antibiotic on a full or empty stomach.
- Some antibiotic prescriptions require special storage such as in the refrigerator. And most medications should be kept in a cool, dry place. Therefore, keeping them next to the shower may not be ideal.
- If you have a viral infection, antibiotics will not make you feel better and can have negative effects. So ask your doctor or pharmacist about possible medications that can be used for symptom relief.
- Centers for Disease Control; National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases Division of Bacterial Diseases. Get Smart Know When Antibiotics Work 2012. https://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/community/materials-references/print-materials/parentsyoung-children/answer-b.pdf. Accessed September 27, 2017.
- Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. The ABC’s of Antibiotics 2014. http://consumers.site.apic.org/files/2014/09/AntibioticInfographic14-FINAL.pdf. Accessed September 27, 2017.