5 Antibiotic Rules for Patients

AUGUST 25, 2015
Every house has that half-used bottle of antibiotics sitting in the back of the medicine cabinet.

At one point, someone had an infection and they were prescribed an antibiotic. Maybe it made them feel sick to their stomach, or they had an allergic reaction, or they started feeling better. Whatever the reason, the bottle still had 5 or 6 days of antibiotics left in it, so they decided to keep it in their medicine cabinet, just in case.
 
Later on, someone else in their family might not feel so well for some reason, and they just open up the drawer, pull out that half-empty bottle of antibiotics, and start taking it.

This is a grave mistake! Instead, get rid of those leftover antibiotics in an appropriate manner, then follow these 5 rules:
 
1. Be evaluated by a licensed prescriber before taking an antibiotic to treat a bacterial infection.
Not all antibiotics work for all types of infections, and taking an antibiotic that is not appropriate may actually make the condition worse. Antibiotics are chosen based on the site of the infection, the suspected bacteria, previous antibiotic usage, and a host of other patient-specific factors.
 
2. Only use antibiotics for bacterial infections.
Antibiotics will not work for viral infections, such as the common cold or the flu. Use of antibiotics to treat viral infections will not help and may increase the chances of bacteria developing a resistance to that particular antibiotic. In other words, the antibiotic may not work if it has been overused in conditions that are not related to bacterial infections.
 
3. Continue taking prescribed antibiotics for the complete length of therapy.
Even when you are feeling better and your symptoms are gone, keep taking the antibiotic as prescribed. If you stop too early, there may still be some bacteria that will continue to grow, and the infection may return. It is possible that this new growth of bacteria may develop a resistance to the prescribed antibiotic, and a new antibiotic may be necessary. 
 
4. Call your pharmacist or prescriber If antibiotics are not improving your condition, or making it worse.
If your condition has improved, but not completely, by the time you are finishing your antibiotic, notify your prescriber, because he or she may want to prescribe a few more days of therapy. 
 
5.  Take the time to learn about your antibiotic therapy. 
Before you leave the pharmacy with antbiotics, speak with your pharmacist. Make sure you understand how you are supposed to take the antibiotic and identify reactions, and let the pharmacist know about any other medications you are taking. When you get home, read the accompanying consumer medication information. Take the time to understand what you do and don’t know about your antibiotic regimen, so that you may take educated questions back to the pharmacist.


Steve Leuck, PharmD
Steve Leuck, PharmD
Steve Leuck, PharmD, has been practicing both hospital and community pharmacy for over 30 years. He founded AudibleRx, in 2011, which provides Consumer Medication Information which is both Useful and Accessible. Content designed to meet health literacy guidelines. Format designed to "read along" with the audio presentation in a simple to use web application. More information at AudibleRx.org.
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