Antibiotics are used to treat different types of bacterial infections. If your doctor has prescribed you an antibiotic, then you should take it and follow the dosing instructions provided to you. If you fail to take the antibiotic, miss a dose, or do not take it exactly as directed, chances are your infection will remain, worsen, or require you to be on antibiotics for an extended period of time until you’re able to get rid of the infection.
Common types of bacterial infections that antibiotics are used to treat include strep throat, ear infections, sinus infections, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and skin infections. They work by preventing bacteria from multiplying as well as kill off bacteria. However, antibiotics won’t be effective in treating things like the common cold, influenza, chicken pox, measles, upset stomach or diarrhea – as these are often all viral in nature. It is possible to develop something like a sinus infection along with a common cold, however. If this is the case then you will still be required to take antibiotics – not for the cold itself, but for the infection.
When you fail to take antibiotics exactly as prescribed or take them unnecessarily (i.e. when you have a viral infection as opposed to a bacterial infection), you increase your risk of developing something known as antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria becomes resistant to certain antibiotics used to treat them. The biggest concern that healthcare providers have when it comes to antibiotic resistance is that common infections, such as strep throat or pneumonia, which are usually easily treated, will eventually become untreatable in patients who overuse or abuse antibiotics. If you don’t take antibiotics as prescribed, bacteria can thrive and continue to spread. Along with not taking prescribed antibiotics properly, other examples of antibiotic misuse include giving your medication to others when it is not needed, or self-medicating with leftover antibiotics from prior bacterial infections. In the event that you did not finish your antibiotics (having been told to stop them by your family physician), then you should always return any unfinished medications to your pharmacy for proper disposal.
It’s also important to know how drug-resistant bacteria can be spread. Just like any bacterial infection, drug-resistant bacteria can also be spread from person-to-person (such as coughing, sneezing, or being exposed to bodily fluids), by touching contaminated surfaces (such as utensils, keyboards and doorknobs – and bacteria can survive on these types of surfaces for an extended amount of time.) It can also be spread through food, water and soil (i.e. meat, poultry, dairy products, and by drinking contaminated water), by having direct contact with certain animals (such as cats, dogs, reptiles, farm animals) and animal manure, as well as from international travel.
The best way to prevent antibiotic resistance, says Dr. Ghahary, is to use antibiotics responsibly. You can also take extra precautions to prevent illness. The best way to prevent illness is to ensure you practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands frequently (and properly!) with warm soap and water (as well as keeping them away from your eyes, nose and mouth), wiping down contaminated surfaces, and even practicing food safety – as food that is not prepared properly is one of the most common and easiest ways to develop food borne illness, such as food poisoning, e.coli, salmonella, etc.