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healthy bytes: antibiotics

Chances are you’ll be prescribed antibiotics at some point in your life. For an ear infection as a child; for acne as a teen; for tonsillitis or bronchitis (or any other kind of –itis) during one of these dreary winters. You probably know people who swear they’ll never take antibiotics, and others who start popping pills whenever they get a sniffle.

I used to think I’d never take antibiotics. Until last winter when I came down with bronchitis… of the green-phlegm-spitting, voice-losing, shallow-breathing variety. At that point I was happy to take anything that might possibly make me better, so I took antibiotics. And while yes, they did make me better, I would’ve liked to be better informed about antibiotics. So here I’ve summarised the most important things I learnt from my antibiotics experience:

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are drugs that kill or slow the growth of bacteria. They are typically prescribed by doctors to patients with respiratory infections, acne, infected wounds, and ear infections – any kind of infection caused by bacteria. Common types of antibiotics are amoxicillin, doxycycline and trimethoprim.

What’s the best way to take antibiotics?

The more often you take antibiotics, the more resistant your body will become to the drugs. They also do nothing for a virus – for example, if you catch a cold, antibiotics will not help at all. However, if you have a bacterial infection and need antibiotics, there are ways to help them work:

1. Take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary

2. Take the full course of antibiotics that you’ve been prescribed (even if you feel better)

3. Take the antibiotics at the correct dose and time that they have been prescribed

What should you be especially aware of?

Allergies:

You know that weird question the doctor always asks: ‘Do you have any allergies?’ My response used to be, ‘Strawberries?’ Which usually made them laugh. Well, my response now is, ‘Amoxicillin!’ If you haven’t taken antibiotics before, be aware that allergies to certain antibiotics are very common. Two days after starting my course of pills, I woke up with a rash covering every millimetre of my body. It wasn’t painful, but it was rather embarrassing. So be prepared! (And perhaps ask your parents beforehand if they have any antibiotic allergies – it turns out my allergy’s genetic.)

Contraception:

Some types of antibiotics can reduce the effectiveness of the Pill. This list keeps changing depending on the latest research, so the safest thing is to use condoms while you’re taking any kind of antibiotics, just in case.

Alcohol:

If you’re sick you probably won’t feel like partying anyway, but if you are planning to have a drink while on antibiotics, bear in mind that alcohol can reduce the absorption of antibiotics such as doxycycline. Alcohol is also known to react with certain antibiotics, causing headaches, nausea and vomiting. To avoid any queasy situations, be sure to ask your doctor about the specific antibiotics they’ve prescribed.

Test your antibiotics IQ over at ABC Health, or else post your antibiotics tips and experiences below!

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