When Do You Need Antibiotics?

When Do You Need Antibiotics? | Dr. Ali Ghahary

When you develop an illness, such as a viral infection (i.e. a common cold) or have a superficial wound (like a cut or scratch), these are things that will usually resolve on their own over a few days or couple of weeks, depending on the severity of your illness and the symptoms that you experience. If you have a viral infection, antibiotics will not help resolve your illness or speed up the recovery time. Taking an antibiotic when it is unnecessary to do so will potentially cause antibiotic resistance. However, during your recovery period, there are certain over-the-counter products that can purchase in order to help relieve symptoms. For example, a decongestant can help with symptoms related to a cold, while pain relief medications can help ease general body aches and pains and relieve fever if you have the flu; and Polysporin (which contains non-medicinal ingredients such as petrolatum, butylated hydroxytoluene, cocoa butter, cotton seed oil, olive oil, sodium pyruvate, and vitamin E) can help speed up the healing of wounds.

All of this being said, there are certain times in which you may develop a bacterial infection and require the use of antibiotics. Common infections that are caused by bacteria include:

• Lower and upper respiratory infections, including pneumonia, sinus infections as well as ear infections, and strep throat.
• Urinary tract infections, such as bladder and kidney infections.
• Food poisoning caused by E.coli.

The type of antibiotic you need to be prescribed depends on the type of infection you have. For example, either Penicillin or amoxicillin are typically the number one choice in antibiotics used to treat group A strep pharyngitis (strep throat.) If you are diagnosed with pneumonia, then Macrolide drugs such as Azithromycin or Clindamycin are the preferred treatment choices; while Amoxicillin and Azithromycin can both also be used for the treatment of sinus and ear infections, in addition to others.

If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic to you, then they are weighing the benefits vs. risks, though some antibiotics may have interactions with other medications you’re taking (which may require you to temporary stop said medications, if it is safe for you to do so) as well as food, which your pharmacy will notify you of. Many antibiotics also come with several side effects – most commonly things like nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea. These symptoms can often be reduced if you eat a small meal or drink milk (which helps coat the stomach) at least 30 minutes before taking the antibiotic. However, some antibiotics can also be taken with or without food. How an antibiotic will affect an individual simply varies from person to person. One antibiotic that might make you feel sick may not make another person who takes it feel sick.

In addition to this, it’s important to take your antibiotic exactly as prescribed. For example, if you have been instructed to take your antibiotic twice a day, this typically means that it should be taken morning and night (i.e. 7 AM and 7 PM.) Failing to take your antibiotic exactly as your doctor has prescribed could result in your infection persisting or worsening, and you may ultimately require a longer course of the antibiotic, or need to be switched to a different antibiotic all together.

It’s also possible to be allergic to an antibiotic. While the most common antibiotic that people tend to be allergic to is Penicillin, you can be allergic to any antibiotic. An allergic reaction from taking an antibiotic can be mild (including things like rash or hives), while an allergic reaction can also be severe (including things like swelling of the lips and tongue, swelling of the throat, and trouble breathing – also known as anaphylaxis.) If you allergy is mild, you can find relief by taking an anti-histamine. However, if your allergy is severe, you will likely need an injection of epinephrine. In the event of a serious allergy, you should always call 911 as it can be a life-threatening situation.