What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are medicines that kill bacteria. Bacteria can cause
infections such as
strep throat, ear infections,
urinary tract infections, and sinus infections (sinusitis).
There are many types of antibiotics. Each works a little
differently and acts on different types of bacteria. Your doctor will decide
which antibiotic will work best for your infection.
Don't antibiotics cure everything?
Antibiotics are powerful medicines, but they cannot cure
everything. Antibiotics do not work against illnesses that are caused by a
virus. They do not help illnesses such as:
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. Over time these bacteria
change (mutate) and become harder to kill. 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
cost more. A stronger antibiotic may have more side effects than the first
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 harmful side effects. Common side effects include:
Antibiotics also can cause Clostridium difficilecolitis (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.
Women may get
vaginal yeast infections from taking antibiotics.
In rare cases, antibiotics can cause a dangerous
allergic reaction that requires emergency care.
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.