antibiotics awareness

Summer Nakaishi
May 14, 2024

Bacteria are everywhere – some are harmless and some are helpful, but some bad bacteria can cause infections and harm our bodies. And that’s when antibiotics often step in. Antibiotics are medications used to kill bacterial infections within the body, making it difficult for bacteria to grow and multiply.

Many of us have been there – a bout of prolonged sickness has us feeling so ill we call our doctor for an antibiotics prescription in hopes that the medication will offer quick relief. However, antibiotics won’t treat illnesses caused by viral infections like a cold or the flu, and side effects from taking antibiotics like diarrhea, nausea, rash, dizziness, and yeast infections can sometimes make you feel worse.

On the other hand, antibiotics can save lives when used appropriately. When used incorrectly, antibiotics can cause more harm than good.

“There’s good bacteria that help protect your body from invasion of other bacteria,” says Lucie Tam, a registered nurse and HMSA clinical coordinator. “If you keep taking antibiotics, you’re going to kill your good bacteria along with the bad.”

So how do you know when antibiotics are needed? Before rushing to ask for an antibiotics prescription, consider these appropriate and inappropriate uses of antibiotics from the CDC:


Appropriate antibiotic use
Ask your health care provider about the best way to feel better while your body fights the infection. Your doctor can determine whether you need antibiotics versus over-the-counter drugs. Your local pharmacist can help recommend over-the-counter remedies.

If your doctor decides antibiotics are the best treatment for your illness, take them exactly as prescribed. Antibiotics are often prescribed for bacterial infections such as strep throat, whooping cough, and a urinary tract infection. But not all bacterial infections need antibiotics. Some common bacterial infections like sinus infections and ear infections may not always require antibiotics.

Use antibiotics to treat serious, life-threatening conditions like pneumonia and sepsis, which are your body’s extreme responses to an infection caused by bacteria. 

Antibiotics are effective for those with weaker immune systems who are at high risk for developing serious infections, such as patients undergoing surgery, end-stage kidney disease, or patients receiving cancer therapy.

Talk to a health care professional if you develop any side effects, especially if you experience severe diarrhea, trouble swallowing, or allergic reactions, which should be treated immediately.


Inappropriate antibiotics use
Antibiotics shouldn’t be taken for viral infections – the medication won’t work against infections like a cold, the flu, and COVID-19. According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, antibiotic treatment is not necessary in healthy young adults with common colds.

Don’t share your antibiotics prescription with anyone or take a prescription meant for someone else.

Don’t save antibiotics for later use. Talk to your doctor about disposing of leftover medication properly.

Antibiotics resistance
Antibiotics overuse can lead to antibiotic resistance, which is when germs and fungi evolve to defeat the drugs and the bad germs continue to grow.

Tam says if you overuse antibiotics, especially if they’re not used properly, your body becomes resistant to bacteria, which can evolve into a superbug.

“Think of bacteria like a cockroach, those big cockroaches that we get in our homes,” says Tam. “And imagine the bug spray can (antibiotics) says to kill cockroaches, you need to spray the roach with all its contents. If you don’t take your whole course of antibiotics – meaning the whole can to kill the bug – it can actually make the bacteria stronger.”

If you spray the bug with only a few sprays from the can, the roach will keep coming back. It’s the same with antibiotics. If you take a few doses, start feeling better, and stop taking the medication, the bacteria are not completely killed. Then, the bacteria evolve and become stronger because they can now resist the antibiotic that almost killed it, but didn't. Now, stronger antibiotics may be needed to vanquish the bad bacteria.


Each year more than 28% of antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the U.S. every year and more than 35,000 people die as a result. The CDC believes that understanding proper antibiotic use is a national priority.


What can we do?
Tam says sometimes it takes time to feel better. We can support our immune system by taking over-the-counter treatments, staying hydrated, eating a healthy diet, and getting plenty of rest.

“Most bacterial infections, if you’re healthy, can get better without antibiotics over time,” says Tam. “Think of an infection like a cut on your hand – it can take time for a cut to heal with proper care.”

Tam says if you have underlying health conditions or aren’t feeling better within a week, consult with your primary care doctor to see what’s the best way to treat your illness.

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