How to avoid misusing antibiotics

How to avoid misusing antibiotics

People typically get a prescription for antibiotics to treat sinus and other infections from their doctor.

But did you know self-treating and taking nonprescription antibiotics without the guidance of your doctor is not a good idea? It’s happening more often – and it’s contributing to the rising tide of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

In a recently published research study, researchers reviewed 31 studies from the last 20 years. They concluded that the unsafe practice of nonprescription antibiotic use is prevalent in the U.S. and it may contribute to the global issue of antibiotic resistance.

You might ask, how do people get antibiotics without a prescription? The researchers discovered that most came from “leftover” prescriptions — their own or from friends and family members. Other sources include pet stores, health food stores and online.

Taking leftover or nonprescription antibiotics is neither effective nor safe.

To completely combat an infection, doctors prescribe a precise dose and duration of antibiotics that should always be taken exactly as directed, which  means until the entire prescription is gone, recommends Dr. Charles Brummitt, who specializes in Infectious Diseases at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wis.

Taking only a partial dose may seem OK as you starts to feel better, but the infection may still be present.  It’s crucial to complete the prescribed course of antibiotic. If side effects develop from an antibiotic, inform your doctor to determine the course of action, but do not save, take or share “leftover” antibiotics.

Side effects also can result from taking nonprescription antibiotics. Research shows antibiotics can kill not only harmful microbes, but good ones as well. This can disrupt your naturally balanced biome in your digestive tract, allowing harmful bacteria to grow, causing diarrhea and even life-threatening colitis.

Taking prescription or nonprescription antibiotic also allows bacteria causing the infection to build up resistance to that antibiotic. Exposed to an antibiotic that’s used frequently or in small doses, the harmful microbes develop resistance to that antibiotic, which then becomes ineffective, increasing the difficulty in treating infections. Something to think about: The Centers for Disease Control reports that each year 2 million Americans develop antibiotic-resistant infections and 23,000 die from those infections.

What can you do to be smart about antibiotic use? The CDC recommends being antibiotic aware:

  1. Antibiotics aren’t always the answer. When antibiotics aren’t needed (like for the common cold), they won’t help you and using them can cause side effects and contribute to antibiotic resistance and the upsurge in superbugs.
  2. Antibiotics don’t work on viruses, such as those that cause colds, flu, bronchitis and even many cases of sinusitis. Respiratory viruses usually go away in a week or two without treatment. Ask your doctor about the best ways to feel better while your body naturally fights off the virus. Partner with your provider to understand if your symptoms are due to a virus or bacteria, and the reason and duration for an antibiotic if prescribed.
  3. Antibiotics are used for bacterial infections. They are critical tools in treating many common infections like pneumonia and life-threatening conditions like sepsis and in preventing infection when given prior to surgery — as prescribed by your doctor.
  4. If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, take exactly as prescribed. Do not save or give the prescription to anyone else.
  5. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or side effects after taking an antibiotic, especially diarrhea, as that could be a Clostridium difficile infection, which needs to be treated.

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About the Author

Mary Arens
Mary Arens

Mary Arens, health enews contributor, is a senior content specialist at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She has 20+ years of experience in communications plus a degree in microbiology. Outside of work, Mary makes healthy happen with hiking, yoga, gardening and walks with her dog, Chester.