3 Things to Know When Taking Antibiotics

Prescription Drugs

3 Things to Know When Taking Antibiotics

RxSaver Editors
By RxSaver Editors
Aug 25, 2017
A woman is at her work desk holding a glass of water in one hand and holding her antibiotic in the other

Let’s say that you get a really bad sore throat. You call your doctor and go in and after some cultures are taken, he says you have strep throat. He writes up a prescription for an antibiotic and tells you to make sure to take the entire prescription. So, what are antibiotics? How do they work, and what are their limitations? Are there any side effects that you should be concerned about?

What Are Antibiotics?

Antibiotics are a type of medication whose purpose is to stop certain types of infections. They are only effective when used against bacteria, however. Against these organisms, antibiotics either stop the bacteria from reproducing or kill it outright. The first antibiotic discovered was penicillin in 1928. Derivatives of penicillin have been developed throughout the years, including ampicillin, and amoxicillin.

These types of antibiotics are used to treat a wide variety of bacterial infections. Other classes of antibiotics include cephalosporin, aminoglycoside, tetracycline, macrolide, and fluoroquinolone. These antibiotics are used for a wide variety of infections, ranging from acne and rosacea to more severe infections that require treatment in a hospital. Antibiotics cannot treat viral infections. That means that antibiotics have no effect on the flu or most other upper respiratory infections. Taking an antibiotic when you have a viral infection won’t help you recover more quickly and it could have a dangerous side effect.

Antibiotic Resistance

The widespread use of antibiotics over the past hundred years has led to the evolution of superbugs or strains of bacteria that are resistant to common antibiotics. Examples of these antibiotic-resistant bacteria include Staphylococcus aureus – also known as methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA) – and new strains of Clostridium difficile, an intestinal bacterium.

Thankfully, these strains are only resistant, not immune. But their appearance highlights one of the dangers of taking antibiotics when they aren’t needed. This is the reason why most doctors are hesitant to prescribe antibiotics for conditions that aren’t especially serious. Superbugs are challenging enough to treat in a fully staffed hospital, but in third world countries, they are becoming a leading cause of disability and death.

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What Are Antibiotics and What Are The Side Effects?

If you are asking “what are antibiotics?” then you should be familiar with their side effects. One of the most common side effects of taking antibiotics is diarrhea. While the exact mechanism isn’t completely understood, it’s thought to be because the medications upset the balance of your gut flora. Diarrhea doesn’t come from every antibiotic, it is commonly linked to broad-spectrum antibiotics like penicillin and other –cillin based drugs, and cephalosporins. If you are taking tetracyclines, you may notice an increased sensitivity to light.

This antibiotic side effect means that you should avoid tanning beds and prolonged exposure to bright light or the sun. Another side effect of antibiotics is that they can kill bacteria that protect you from yeast infections. You should let your doctor know immediately if you get a yeast infection so they can change your medication. Another side effect of taking antibiotics is nausea. This is why it’s recommended that you take your meds with food to ease that feeling. If you take oral contraceptives, let your doctor know.

Antibiotics may reduce the effectiveness of your contraceptive, meaning that you may need to use other methods of contraception. It is possible that you can have an allergic reaction to a course of antibiotics. The more mild reactions are usually a case of hives, or a tightness in the throat which can cause difficulty breathing. The reaction is usually mild and can be treated with antihistamines. However, if taking an allergy medication doesn’t help, you should contact your doctor. More severe allergic reactions, or anaphylaxis, should be reported to your doctor immediately. The symptoms to these types of reactions are swelling in the neck with a corresponding difficulty in breathing, a rapid heartbeat, or feeling light-headed.

What Else You Should Know About Antibiotics

Remember that when your doctor prescribes a course of medication, you should take the entire amount over the recommended length of time. You will probably start to feel better after only a few days of taking the antibiotics, but that is only because antibiotics start working quickly. If you stop taking the medication, however, lingering bacteria could recover and make you sick again. Taking the full prescription ensures this won’t happen. Don’t ever borrow antibiotics from someone else. Sharing prescription medication, in any case, is very dangerous and can be deadly.

Additionally, the borrowed antibiotic may not be effective for your infection. If you have any questions about the antibiotic that’s been prescribed, make sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist. Be clear on when you should be taking your medication. For example, if you need to take one pill four times per day, does that mean once every six hours or some other schedule. There are also some things you should not do with certain antibiotics. For example, when taking tetracyclines, you should not eat any dairy products. Dairy inhibits the absorption of that type of antibiotic.

If you’re taking metronidazole, you should not consume alcohol. Again, make sure you talk to your doctor so you know any restrictions that are associated with your medication. And just like that, you are an antibiotic expert. Now you’ll be able to confidently answer the commonly asked question… “So exactly what are antibiotics?”. If you are taking an antibiotic, don’t forget to use RxSaver‘s search tool to ensure you are paying the lowest price for your prescription.

RxSaver Editors

RxSaver Editors

RxSaver Editors are wellness enthusiasts who help you learn how you can save the most on prescription medication costs and other health-related topics.

The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.