Tips and Tools: Taking antibiotics properly

Is something "bugging" you? If you have a cold or flu, most likely a virus is causing your symptoms. Antibiotics do not treat viruses; they kill bacteria. These medications are used to treat bacterial infections such as strep throat or more serious conditions such as meningitis.

Because people don't always take antibiotics correctly or for the right reasons, more bacteria are becoming resistant to the powerful effect of these medications. When bacteria that are not causing an infection are exposed to antibiotics, some are killed, but others survive and can start to multiply, causing an infection. And if the dose of the antibiotic is small, the bacteria may not die, but change (or mutate), becoming resistant to the antibiotic.

If you are prescribed antibiotics, be sure to take them as prescribed by your doctor and pharmacist, and follow these tips:

  • Take your antibiotics according to the prescribed dose and frequency.
  • Do not stop taking antibiotics if you start to feel better or if your symptoms subside; always complete the whole course of medication.
  • Antibiotics are usually taken before meals, but some types are taken after food to help prevent stomach upset. Follow the instructions provided by your physician or pharmacist. If you are not sure, call your pharmacist.
  • If taking liquid antibiotics, shake well before using and store them appropriately (some antibiotics require refrigeration).
  • If you miss one dose, take it immediately and take the next dose as scheduled. If it is already time for your next dose, just skip the one you missed. Never take double doses of antibiotics.
  • Never share antibiotics or use a prescription for unrelated symptoms.
  • Never leave unused antibiotics for later use, or for other people to take.
  • Follow storage instructions on the medication label.
  • Keep antibiotics in a safe place away from children.
  • Talk to your doctor if you are taking other medications. Antibiotics may have harmful interactions with other prescription medications, herbal products and alcohol.

If you are taking oral contraceptives, note that some antibiotics may decrease their effectiveness, or may increase your risk of yeast infections. Also, certain antibiotics should not be used during pregnancy or while breast-feeding.

If you experience any side effects from taking antibiotics, talk to your doctor or pharmacist immediately.

Learn more about Cough and Flu