When should you take antibiotics?

So you’re not feeling well. Maybe you have a sore throat or your sinuses are wreaking havoc in your head? How do you know if you need an antibiotic or if an antihistamine or analgesic is enough?
If you are suffering from the common cold or the flu, an antibiotic will not help you. Antibiotics only work on illnesses caused by bacteria and they are not effective against viruses.
You should consult your doctor if you think you have a bacterial infection. If a physical exam is not enough to determine the cause of your illness, then he or she may also order a blood or urine test to confirm a diagnosis. Once the doctor determines whether an infection, or a simple virus, he or she may prescribe you with an antibiotic.
Be sure to follow the exact instructions for taking the medication. Prescriptions are written to cover the time needed to help your body fight all the harmful bacteria. If you stop your antibiotic early, the bacteria that have not yet been killed can restart an infection.
Don’t think that you can save your medication for one infection and use it for another infection later on. Leftover antibiotics are not a complete dose, and they will not work to kill all your disease causing bacteria. Always talk to your doctor because your symptoms may not be caused by bacteria. If you do have another bacterial infection, a complete dose of the appropriate antibiotic is needed to kill all the harmful bacteria. And the medication prescribed for an earlier infection may not work on a later infection — especially if you only have a partial dose.
How safe are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are generally safe and should always be taken as prescribed by your doctor. However, they may alter the effectiveness of other medications and cause side effects or allergic reactions. If you are experiencing any adverse effect of your medicine, consult your doctor right away.
Antibiotics can kill most of the bacteria in your body that are sensitive to them and that includes good bacteria. By destroying the bacterial balance, it may cause upset stomach, diarrhea, vaginal infections, or other problems.
If you take antibiotics unnecessarily you may contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance. If you become sick and your bacteria are resistant to your prescribed antibiotic, your illness lasts longer and you may have to make return office and pharmacy visits to find the right drug to kill the germ. For more serious infections it is possible that you would need to be hospitalized or could even die if the infection could not be stopped. Also, while the resistant bacteria are still alive, you act as a carrier of these germs, and you could pass them to friends or family members.
How does a doctor decide which antibiotic to prescribe?
Your doctor will examine you and consider all of your symptoms in order to tell if they should prescribe an antibiotic and, if so, which one. Physicians can also take a culture to see if bacteria are causing a particular illness, such as a throat culture to determine if you have strep throat. If the cause of the infection is unclear, but suspected to be due to bacteria, the doctor may prescribe a broad-spectrum antibiotic that is useful for controlling a wide variety of bacterial types. The physician may choose either a generic or name-brand antibiotic depending on your circumstances.
What should women know before taking antibiotics?
Antibiotics often lead to a vaginal yeast infection. Because antibiotics kill the normal bacteria in the vagina, yeast no longer have competition for food and grow rapidly. Yeast cells begin attacking tissues in the vagina, usually causing one or all of the following symptoms: itching, burning, pain during sex and vaginal discharge. If you think you have a yeast infection, consult a physician.
Antibiotics may also reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills.
As with other medications, some antibiotics may be transmitted to a fetus, and some may cause harm. Therefore, you should never take antibiotics without your doctor’s knowledge if you are pregnant or nursing.