Common Myths about Antibiotics

Written by
Dr. Zulfikar Bux, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine

Dr. Zulfikar Bux, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine

What’s the right way to use antibiotics?
I am often confronted by patients who have become ill and tried an antibiotic of their choice, only to end up doing more harm than good. Some patients generally have the wrong impression of antibiotics and tend to use them for reasons which they were never made to be used for.
The main role for antibiotics is to eliminate infections, even those that can be life threatening at times. Antibiotics can therefore be life saving if used appropriately. But antibiotics aren’t foolproof; they can cause serious health problems when used incorrectly.
The most common complication of antibiotic misuse is antibiotic resistance. Because we misuse antibiotics, the bacteria (bugs) in our body start to develop resistance to antibiotics and over time, we develop multi-drug resistant bacteria in our body, often called “super bugs”. These “super bugs” were once relatively harmless but have now developed resistance to multiple antibiotics and cause life-threatening infections.
Combating misconceptions about antibiotics and their use is important to prevent complications of antibiotics misuse and ultimately ensure a safer environment for us all. Today, we will discuss seven myths about antibiotic misuse.

Myth: Antibiotics can treat my flu/cold
While antibiotics are effective against infections caused by bacteria, fungi, and some parasites, they don’t work against viruses. Viruses cause colds, flu, and most coughs and sore throat. If you think that your flu needs to be treated with antibiotics, see a doctor first, because most likely you will be doing more harm to your body.

Myth: It’s ok to take antibiotics prescribed for a friend or a relative
The best antibiotic for you depends upon the specific illness you have. An antibiotic prescribed for someone else might not work for what ails you. You may actually make your illness worse by using someone else’s antibiotic.

Myth: I am feeling better, so it’s ok to stop my prescribed course of antibiotics
If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, its best to take the entire prescribed doses- even if you feel better. Stopping early could mean the infection hasn’t yet been fully eliminated and can return once you prematurely cease your prescribed dose of antibiotics.

Myth: It’s a good idea to save leftover antibiotics
Some patients think it’s effective to save leftover antibiotics for the next time they get sick again. Left over antibiotics, especially in the liquid form can lose their potency over time. The leftover medication may not work against your latest illness and could actually make it worse. Of course, if antibiotics are taken properly, generally there shouldn’t be any leftover medication.

Myth: If I use antibiotics regularly, I can prevent myself from catching an infection
There are numerous infections and taking one specific antibiotic, cannot prevent you from catching all of those infections. By taking antibiotics regularly, you will make the bacteria in your body become resistant to that antibiotic and others similar to it. This makes it more difficult to treat you if you do develop an infection.

Myth: Antibiotics can help treat my symptoms
Antibiotics treat the infective cause of symptoms and not the symptoms themselves. So thinking that an antibiotic may directly help your headache, vaginal bleeding or itching skin, is inaccurate.

Myth: Antibiotics are always effective
Antibiotics are not effective all the time, especially if there is resistance to the antibiotics or if an incorrect dose was prescribed. If you are not seeing improvements in your illness with the prescribed antibiotics, then you should re-visit your doctor for review.

Using antibiotics in the right way and preventing its misuse, will prevent ‘superbugs” from evolving. Once we curb this trend, infections would be treated effectively and lives would be saved. The right way to use antibiotics is the way your doctor prescribed it to be used.

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Columns · Health · Issue 21 · Publication

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