Antibiotics - know the facts

June 22, 2017

Holly Hendrickson, MD – IU Health Physicians Family Medicine

The use—and overuse—of antibiotics has received a lot of press in recent years, primarily due to concerns about antibiotic resistance and the threat of “super bugs” that don’t respond to available medications. While antibiotics are life-saving drugs, it’s important to understand how and when they should be used. Some facts to keep in mind:

Antibiotics won’t help with viruses. Antibiotics are effective treatment for bacterial infections and are not suited for illnesses caused by viruses, such as the common cold, flu and sore throat. Your doctor may consider prescribing an antibiotic for strep throat and ear infections, which are the most common bacterial infections.

One size doesn’t fit all. There are many types of antibiotics, and all have intended uses for maximum effectiveness and safety. Primary care providers choose appropriate antibiotic treatment based on the infection and germ present and the patient for whom it’s being prescribed. This is especially true for patients with allergies and those who may already be taking medications to avoid drug interactions. If you’re ill and think you may have an infection, contact your doctor. Don’t take antibiotic medications left over from a previous infection or those prescribed for another person.

Finish the entire prescription. Although you’re likely to feel better a few days after starting the antibiotic, it’s important to complete the full course to ensure the infection is cleared up. Stopping an antibiotic early also leads to resistance.

Know there are side effects. Intended to treat certain bacterial infections, antibiotics may also cause side effects for some people, including upset stomach, diarrhea, yeast infections and allergic reactions.

Trust your doctor to decide. Your primary care provider will know when an antibiotic is needed and which one to prescribe. Medication speeds recovery, but taking an antibiotic for the wrong reason will do more harm than good in the long run. Your doctor has the latest information and can answer any questions you may have about antibiotics and how they are best used to treat infections.

Holly Hendrickson, MD, specializes in family medicine. She is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Family Medicine and can be reached by calling the office at 317.297.7773. For more health information, subscribe to Strength in You at

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