Ask questions about the medications that are prescribed to you. It’s important that you know what they are for, know how to take them, and know how often you should take them. If you are prescribed antibiotics, take all of them—even if you start to feel better.
If you don’t finish a course of antibiotics, harmful superbugs can grow.
Take antibiotics exactly as your prescriber recommends:
- Only take antibiotics prescribed for you—do not share or use leftover antibiotics.
- Don’t save antibiotics for the next illness. Antibiotics treat specific types of infections. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to multiply.
- Discard leftover medication once the prescribed treatment course is completed.
- Don’t ask your healthcare provider for antibiotics when he/she says you don’t need them.
When antibiotics work—and when they don’t
Antibiotics work for bacterial infections, but they don’t help cure a viral infection. That means antibiotics will not help reduce symptoms caused by the common cold or the flu. Antibiotics are also often unnecessary for ear infections, sore throats, and sinus infections.
In the event that you do get a viral illness, that an antibiotic can’t treat, your best option is to get plenty of rest, drink lots of water and other fluids, and treat the symptoms with hot tea (for a sore throat) and other home remedies. Consider using saline nasal sprays and other over-the-counter medicines as well.
It all comes down to knowing your ABC’s of antibiotics and asking the following questions to your healthcare provider:
- “Do I really need an antibiotic?”
- “Can I get better without this antibiotic?”
- “What side effects or drug interactions can I expect?”
- “What side effects should I report to you?”
- “How do you know what kind of infection I have? I understand that antibiotics won’t work for viral infections.”
- ABC’s of Antibiotics infographic—APIC
- Antibiotics: Preserving them for the future—APIC consumer alert
- Protect Patients from Antibiotic Resistance—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 2016 Vital Signs report
- CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance Patient Safety Atlas—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Antibiotic Rx in hospitals: Proceed with caution—The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 2014 Vital Signs report
- Get Smart About Antibiotics—The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Download the new CDC Get Smart factsheets:
- Human vs. superbug: Too late to turn the tide? infographic—BBC
- Medication errors: Cut your risk with these tips—Mayo Clinic
- Do you really need that antibiotic?—US News and World Report, June 2014
- Stop the Spread of Superbugs—NIH News in Health, February 2014