These illnesses usually go away by themselves. Ask your doctor
what you can do to feel better.
Why not take antibiotics just in case?
If you take antibiotics when you do not need them, they may not
work when you do need them. Each time you take antibiotics, you are more likely
to have some bacteria that the medicine does not kill. These bacteria
can change (mutate) so they are harder to kill. Then, the antibiotics that used to kill
them no longer work. These bacteria are called antibiotic-resistant
These tougher bacteria can cause longer and more serious
infections. To treat them you may need different, stronger antibiotics that
have more side effects than the first
medicine and may cost more.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria also can spread to family members,
children, and fellow workers. Your community then will have a risk of getting
an infection that is harder to cure and costs more to treat. Some antibiotics
that doctors prescribed in the past to treat common infections no longer work.
Taking antibiotics you do not need will not help you feel better,
cure your illness, or keep others from catching your infection. But taking them
may cause side effects such as:
Antibiotics also can cause Clostridium difficile colitis (also called C. difficile
colitis), a swelling and irritation of the
large intestine, or colon. This happens because the antibiotics kill the
normal bacteria in your intestine and allow the C. difficile bacteria to grow. This problem can cause diarrhea, fever, and
belly cramps. In rare cases, it can cause death.
How can I help to make sure that antibiotics are the best treatment for me?
Be smart about using antibiotics. Know that antibiotics can help
treat infections caused by bacteria but not by viruses. Here are some things
you can do to help make sure antibiotics will work when you need them:
Always ask your doctor if antibiotics are the best treatment.
Explain that you do not want antibiotics unless you need
Avoid pressuring your doctor into prescribing antibiotics
when they won't help you feel better or cure your illness. Ask your doctor what
else you can do to feel better.
Do not use antibiotics that were
prescribed for a different illness or for someone else. You may delay correct
treatment and become sicker.
Protect yourself from illnesses. Keep
your hands clean by washing them well with soap and clean, running water.
a flu vaccine and other vaccines when you need them.
Questions you can ask your doctor include:
Why do I need antibiotics?
are the side effects of this antibiotic?
Can I do anything to
prevent the side effects?
How do I take the antibiotic? Do I take
it at a certain time of day? Do I take it with food?
antibiotic interfere with any other medicines?
happen if I take this with other medicines, certain foods, or
Do I need to refrigerate antibiotics? Are there any
special storage instructions?
If you need to take antibiotics, always tell your doctor or
pharmacist about other medicines or dietary supplements you are taking. Be sure
to talk about any special diet you may be following, any food or drug allergies
you may have, and any health problems you have. And make sure your doctor
knows if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
How do I take antibiotics?
When your doctor prescribes an antibiotic:
Take it exactly as directed. Always take the
exact amount that the label says to take. If the label says to take the
medicine at a certain time, follow these directions.
Take it for
as long as prescribed. You might feel better after you take it for a few days.
But it is important to keep taking the antibiotic as directed. You need the full prescription to get rid of those bacteria that are a
bit stronger and survive the first few days of treatment. Bacteria that an
antibiotic cannot kill (antibiotic-resistant bacteria) can
develop if you (and many other people) take only part of an antibiotic
Antibiotics generally are safe. But it is important to watch for
side effects. Common side effects include nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pain.
In women, antibiotics can lead to vaginal yeast infections. In rare cases, antibiotics can cause a dangerous allergic
reaction that requires emergency care.
If the antibiotic causes side effects
that really bother you, ask your doctor if treatment can help you deal with the side effects. Some minor side effects are hard
to avoid, but if they are more severe, discuss them with your doctor. Or ask your doctor if another antibiotic
will work as well but not cause these effects.
Other Places To Get Help
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work (U.S.)
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.