At some point, most people will be prescribed antibiotics to treat everything from strep throat to a bacterial-based urinary tract infection. For most people, antibiotics are a standard medicinal category. But the medications aren’t without risk, and misuse can make conditions worse or cause adverse reactions. Get informed on antibiotics and learn about proper use to prevent side effects or health risks.
1. Antibiotics don’t treat viruses
One of the most misunderstood facts about antibiotics is that the medication can only be used to treat infections caused by bacteria. And even when a bacterial infection is present, antibiotics aren’t always necessary to treat the condition and cure a patient. The medication cannot treat viruses because bacteria and viruses are different organisms. Viruses have a different structural composition to bacteria. Likewise, bacteria and viruses behave differently.
2. Following directions matters
When used correctly, antibiotics are incredibly effective at treating a bacterial infection and restoring an individual back to a healthy state. But not following a doctor’s instructions for a prescription can have unintended consequences. One of the most common blunders is failing to finish an antibiotic prescription when a doctor has instructed a patient to do so. Just because an individual feels physically better doesn’t mean that the bacterial infection is completely gone from the body. Likewise, taking antibiotics when no bacterial infection is present can lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the medication. A great example of unintentionally creating antibiotic resistance is using the medication to treat a viral infection.
3. Antibiotics have expiration dates
Just like that bottle of aspirin in the medicine cabinet, antibiotics also have expiration dates. But taking expired antibiotics can be dangerous. In the least dangerous scenario, the antibiotic can degrade when an expiration date has passed, meaning that the medication is less effective in treating an infection. But ineffective antibiotics could encourage more serious illnesses or antibiotic resistance. Once a medicine has expired, people should dispose of the medication safely to ensure that children and pets aren’t at risk of accidental ingestion.
The doc is right
Doctors give specific instructions when prescribing medications like antibiotics for a reason. Misuse can make an individual sicker or encourage antibiotic resistance in bacteria from overexposure. Patients should follow prescription instructions fully, including finishing antibiotics and tossing expired medication to prevent further harm. And most importantly, people should remember that bacteria and viruses are different organisms that can cause infections that can’t be treated in the same way. For specific questions about antibiotics, speak with a healthcare provider.