If someone has an infection or is suspected to have one, the most common thing for doctors to do is to prescribe them antibiotics. However, many believe that the over-prescription of antibiotics is becoming a problem. Antibiotics have the potential to destroy healthy bacteria, make future infections antibiotic-resistant, and cause negative side effects.
"Before patients begin to take any antimicrobial, they should understand why they are taking the medication, how to take it (e.g., dose/frequency/duration), and what they can/should expect from therapy," Ryan P. Mynatt, clinical pharmacist specialist and director of the PGY-2 Infectious Diseases Residency at Detroit Medical Center’s Detroit Receiving Hospital & University Health Center, tells Bustle. "For instance, if a patient is taking an antibiotic for a skin infection, the prescriber should state the time frame in which the patient can expect to see some resolution of the infection. By knowing this, the patient can be empowered to seek out further guidance should the infection fail to resolve itself. They should also be counseled both by their prescriber and dispensing pharmacists about common and clinically significant adverse reactions that they should monitor for during treatment."
If you've been prescribed antibiotics, here are some things experts say to know before taking them.
1. Antibiotic Use Can Lead To Antibiotic-Resistant Infections
More and more bacteria are becoming antibiotic-resistant, meaning you can't kill them off with antibiotics. When you use an antibiotic, the infection you're treating it with can become resistant to it, and future infections you get can as well, Christian J. Whitney, DO, board certified anesthesiologist and pain management consultant and medical director for Restorative Pain Solutions LLC, tells Bustle. That's one of many reasons to limit your antibiotic use to when you truly need them.
2. They Don't Work For Viruses
If you have leftover antibiotics laying around, they won't help you if you get the flu. They only work for bacterial infections, says Whitney, and you don't want to use them any time they're not going to work.
3. Stopping Too Soon Can Make An Infection Recur
Make sure to finish all the pills you've been prescribed, even if you start to feel better. If you don't, the bacteria may not be completely cleared out and the infection can come back, says Whitney.
4. Using Leftover Antibiotics Can Lead To Resistance
Don't use antibiotics without a prescription. Some people will take some that are left over from another infection before seeing a doctor, but this will not only mess up the results of any diagnostic tests you take at the doctor's but also breed antibiotic resistance, often without actually helping you, since not all antibiotics can treat all infections, says Whitney.
5. They Could Mess With Your Birth Control
"Antibiotics may alter the effects of other drugs, such as birth control pills," says Whitney. Rifampin and griseofulvin, for example, can increase your liver's breakdown of estrogen, which may prevent your birth control from releasing estrogen in your body. Make sure to ask about any contraindicated drugs before using antibiotics.
6. They May Not Be Right For You If You're Pregnant Or Breastfeeding
Antibiotics may be transmitted to your fetus or baby, but untreated infections could cause harm to a baby as well, so talk to your doctor about the best option for you if you're pregnant or breastfeeding and have an infection, says Whitney.
7. They Kill Healthy Bacteria, Too
Antibiotics are designed to kill infectious bacteria in our bodies, but in the process, they kill all bacteria, including bacteria that's essential for maintaining our health. For this reason, it's important not to take antibiotics unless you really need them and to take a probiotic with them.
The bottom line? Antibiotics are sometimes necessary to treat infections, but since they also pose a number of downsides, make sure you're only taking them if you need to and that they don't pose too much risk for you.