5 mistakes people make when taking antibiotics

Man talks with doctor during telemedicine appointment

If you have an ear infection, strep throat or sinus infection, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic. It’s important to take it as instructed.

WellTuned spoke with Dr. Lisa Staton, a medical director for BlueCare Tennessee, to learn more about why it’s so critical that you take antibiotics correctly.

Mistakes people make when taking antibiotics

Dr. Staton: People with good intentions make mistakes when it comes to taking medication. Here are some of the most common mistakes that people make when taking an antibiotic:

  1. They take an antibiotic for the wrong condition. Antibiotics are only appropriate for illnesses that are caused by bacteria. If you have a virus like a COVID-19, the flu or a cold, or a fungal infection, an antibiotic won’t help.
  2. They stop taking the antibiotic too soon. Often, people will begin a course of antibiotics, start feeling better, and then stop taking it before they finish the prescribed dosage. You need to finish taking the whole course, or you might relapse.
  3. They skip a dose. Again, you need to take the entire amount that your doctor prescribed for you.
  4. They take someone else’s antibiotics. It’s never a good idea to take someone else’s medicine. It was prescribed for that person’s needs and it may not be appropriate for you.
  5. They take an antibiotic while consuming alcohol. This could result in some unintended side effects. You might experience drowsiness, but with some antibiotics, it can cause more severe interactions. It’s safer to abstain from alcohol altogether, until you finish the course of antibiotics.

Problems with not taking antibiotics correctly

Dr. Staton: There are multiple reasons that you should take antibiotics correctly. Not doing so can have several negative consequences:

  1. You might not get better. To be effective against conditions like strep throat, impetigo or bacterial pneumonia, antibiotics need to be taken for a certain length of time. If you don’t take the whole course, your body may not be able to mount an effective response against that illness.
  2. You can get sicker. If you take someone else’s antibiotic, it may delay you from getting the right care for the illness that you have. You might get sicker or could even have an allergic reaction.
  3. You might contribute to antibiotic resistance. When bacteria become resistant to the drugs used to fight them, it can lead to prolonged illness, hospitalization, and higher medical bills. It also means that those bacteria evolve to become stronger, and researchers have to search for a new type of drug to combat them.

How to take antibiotics correctly

Dr. Staton: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers these tips when taking an antibiotic:

  1. Follow your doctor’s instructions for the medication exactly.
  2. Don’t share your antibiotic with anyone else.
  3. Don’t save them for later.
  4. Don’t take someone else’s antibiotics.

“Taking antibiotics correctly will help you get better faster by killing the bacterial infection in your body,” says Dr. Staton. “But to do that, they must be taken as prescribed. Don’t hesitate to ask your provider questions about the antibiotic and how to take it. If you think a prescription isn’t working, don’t just stop taking it. Contact your provider to see if there is another medicine that might help.”

More from Dr. Staton on WellTuned

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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