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Antibiotics are medicines that help your body fight off infection and prevent bacteria from reproducing. However, it’s important to use antibiotics only when necessary because inappropriate use can be harmful to your health. Here’s what you need to know about antibiotics and how to take them safely.
Some illnesses are caused by bacteria, others are caused by viruses. Unfortunately, antibiotics are only useful for treating bacterial infections. Taking an antibiotic for a viral infection will not make you feel better or keep you from spreading your infection to others.
How do I know if my infection is viral or bacterial?
It can be hard to distinguish between viral and bacterial infections. If you aren’t sure, talk to your doctor. Examples of viral infections (that cannot be treated with antibiotics) include:
Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics. Common examples are:
Some infections can be bacterial or viral, such as ear or sinus infections or bronchitis. Most of these infections go away on their own and don’t need antibiotics, but if your symptoms don’t resolve after about 10 days, make an appointment with your doctor.
Antibiotics destroy some bacteria but not all of them. Leftover bacteria that were not killed by the antibiotic can grow and multiply, leading to the development of drug-resistant bacteria. This is called antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance is dangerous because it has the potential to make simple-to-treat illnesses, like strep throat, difficult to treat or untreatable altogether. If antibiotics do not work due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, your infections may last longer and lead to serious complications.
Never pressure your doctor to prescribe antibiotics for viral infections. Instead ask if there are other things you can do to feel better, such as over-the-counter treatments.
All this information may make antibiotics seem more harmful than helpful, but if your doctor concludes that your infection is bacterial, antibiotics are an effective treatment when used correctly. Follow these steps to ensure safe antibiotic use:
Antibiotics are life-saving drugs, but they can lead to serious problems when used inappropriately. If you’re ever unsure about how to take your antibiotic or if an antibiotic is necessary, talk to your doctor.
“Antibiotics for a Sore Throat, Cough or Runny Nose.” Choosing Wisely.
“Antibiotic Prescribing and Use in Doctor’s Offices – What You Can Do.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Antibiotic Prescribing and Use in Doctor’s Offices – Fast Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Antibiotic Prescribing and Use in Doctor’s Offices – Antibiotic Resistance Questions and Answers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Combating Antibiotic Drug Resistance.” United States Food and Drug Administration.
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.