Frequently Asked Questions
Antibiotics are medicines that fight infections caused by bacteria. Antibiotics can be in the form of pills or liquids. Examples include penicillin and ciprofloxacin.
Antibiotics are prescribed by a doctor, nurse practitioner or dentist and picked up from a pharmacy. Different antibiotics are required depending on the type of infection and the bacteria involved. This decision is best left to your healthcare provider.
Antibiotics fight infections caused by bacteria. Sometimes antibiotics are given to prevent infection but only in special situations such as prior to some surgeries or when a person’s immune system has been altered (for example, if receiving chemotherapy). Antibiotics DO NOT work against viruses (such as colds and flu).
Yes, it does matter. Your antibiotics will come with directions for how much to take, at what times of day, along with other directions, such as “take with food” or “keep refrigerated.” Different types of antibiotics work in different ways and following instructions will ensure a better treatment outcome.
Take the medicine as directed. Continuing to take the medicine beyond the point at which you start to feel better is to prevent relapses in your infection rather than to prevent antibiotic resistance. The chance of antibiotic resistance developing tends to increase with the total amount of antibiotics used, so the shorter the course of antibiotic therapy you are prescribed, the lower the risk of antibiotic resistance developing. Healthcare providers are encouraged to follow the best evidence and prescribe shorter courses of antibiotic therapy to lower the opportunity for bacteria to become resistant, as well as reducing adverse side-effects.
Antibiotics are used to fight infections caused by bacteria, but not used for infections caused by viruses (such as colds or flu). Antibiotics do not fight colds. As the body starts fighting a virus, white blood cells attack and kill the virus. The dead virus cells along with a person’s white blood cells make the mucus darker and greener. As long as fever and other symptoms are improving, this is the natural course of an infection due to a virus.
No. In fact, most ear infections (even bacterial infections) will get better on their own if you give them a bit of time. Ear infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria. As a result, the doctor will often advise holding off on taking antibiotics. This also helps to prevent antibiotic resistance. Depending on the severity and past history, the doctor might decide an antibiotic is required. It should be taken as directed.
A sore throat can be caused by either a viral or a bacterial infection. Most sore throats are caused by viruses. A sore throat caused by a virus typically occurs along with a cough, or runny nose. Viral infections do not need antibiotics.
Strep throat (bacterial infection) typically occurs about 7 – 10 days after a cold and should no longer be accompanied by a cough or runny nose. If a sore throat occurs without a cough and runny nose, but includes a fever and enlarged lymph nodes, talk with your doctor to see if a throat swab is recommended. If your sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection, the most common cause is Group A Streptococcus (GAS). In this case, antibiotics are recommended.
Accurate diagnosis of a sore throat is critical for limiting antibiotic overuse, but distinguishing between GAS (caused by a bacterial infection) and sore throat caused by a viral infection can be challenging. If you have a sore throat with cold symptoms like cough or runny nose, you likely have a viral infection and antibiotics will not help.
Some people are carriers of GAS. Taking a throat swab during a cold might result in a positive test, but you likely have a viral infection and antibiotics will not help. That is why it is important not to do a throat swab if the patient has a runny nose or a cough, as the infection is due to a virus.
It is good practice to ask your healthcare provider questions about any recommended treatment, including antibiotics. If your doctor suggests an antibiotic, ask questions and learn why this medicine is best for your infection. When prescribed correctly, antibiotics are important medicines. When needed, they can work quickly and cure infections. They are especially helpful in infections such as urinary tract infections and pneumonia.
No. Take all the medicine as directed. Starting to feel better does not necessarily mean the infection is completely treated. Antibiotics should always be taken as directed by your doctor. A new infection may require a different antibiotic or may have become resistant to the antibiotic you have already taken. Leftover antibiotics should be returned to the pharmacy for proper disposal.
Hives, rashes or trouble breathing may mean you are allergic to the type of antibiotic you are taking. You should seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Medicines like antibiotics can have side effects. Upset or sore stomach and loose stools are common complaints and do not mean you are allergic to them. If symptoms persist after finishing the antibiotics, or if you develop a rash or severe diarrhea, see your doctor right away.