During this time of year more of us are getting sick with ear, sinus, throat or chest infections. Some of us will have a mild infection that will clear up on its own and some of us will need to see the doctor for antibiotics. Here are some common questions from patients.
I think I’m catching a cold, so does this mean I need to see my doctor for antibiotics?
Most likely you have a viral infection such as a cold so you do not need antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and not viral infections. If you have a cold, it will have to run its course of about 7 to 10 days. There are ways of treating your symptoms through non-prescribed medications and non-drug treatment. Save antibiotic use for when it is required to treat a bacterial infection. The pharmacist can help you determine whether or not you should see your doctor.
My doctor told me to finish all my medication for my chest infection. Do I have to finish all my antibiotics?
Yes. Take your antibiotic medication until finished. Your doctor has ordered a medication to treat your illness that must be completely taken to ensure that the infection goes away and does not come back. Even if you start to feel better, you should still finish taking your medication. Some of your symptoms may have resolved, but not all the germs have been killed. If you do not complete the full course of antibiotics, there is a chance for the infection to return and if you have to be treated with the same drug, it may not be as effective. The antibiotic will kill the vulnerable bacteria, but an incomplete antibiotic course will allow resistant bacteria to remain.
If my antibiotic pill bottle says I need to ‘take one capsule three times daily’, do I have to follow that direction or can I just take three pills in the morning?
The instructions of medication use are important and should be followed accordingly. The antibiotic should be taken three times a day (in the morning, mid-day, and in the evening or ideally every 8 hours) to ensure effectiveness of the treatment. So, the correct number of pills should be taken at the proper time intervals. There has to be a therapeutic level of drug in the body to kill bacteria. The treatment will fail if the drug is not taken correctly. It is important to pay attention to the instructions written on the prescription pill container, the information sheets (enclosed with the prescription) and the advice given by the pharmacist. Some medications must be taken with food for it to be effective and to help minimize stomach upset. If you want the medication to work for you, you have to take the antibiotics correctly.
I have some leftover antibiotics from before. Can I take them now because I think I have an infection?
First of all, you shouldn’t have extra antibiotic medication lying around. Those should have been finished during your last infection when it was prescribed. Secondly, how long ago did you get that medication and where did you keep it? Even if the drug was kept at optimal storage conditions and had not yet expired, there would not be enough medication to last for the full treatment duration. So not all the germs would be killed off and this would allow the bacteria to be more resistant to the antibiotic. How do you know that the leftover drug will be effective against your current illness? Ask your doctor for the proper diagnosis and treatment.
The pharmacist will be able to answer questions about your medications, your health and well-being. All you have to do is ask.
Armalyn Tesoro is a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy. She is currently working as a licensed community pharmacist at Wal-Mart on Ellice and Empress.
The above information is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult with your doctor, pharmacist or qualified health care professional to receive proper medical treatment.