Just like you wouldn’t use a hammer to tighten a loose screw, antibiotics aren’t always the right tool for treating an illness. Antibiotics are used for certain bacterial infections, like strep throat, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and ear infections. They work by killing bacteria and disrupting their ability to reproduce. Doctors often prescribe antibiotics as pills, but topical skin creams and intravenous (IV) antibiotics are also used in specific cases.
Antibiotics vs. Antivirals
While antibiotics work on bacteria, antivirals are used to treat viruses, like the common cold and the flu. Unlike antibiotics, antivirals work by preventing the spread of a virus, rather than killing the virus itself. Most people can recover from viral infections without medication, but antivirals may be used for chronic or life-threatening viruses like hepatitis or Ebola. Antivirals may also be used to help prevent you from getting a viral infection after being exposed to a virus like the flu or COVID-19.
Side Effects of Antibiotics
While rare, some people may experience side effects like an upset stomach, headaches, and abdominal pain when taking antibiotics. If you experience any of these, reach out to your doctor to see if you need to switch to a different antibiotic. Since it’s usually the digestive system that’s affected, taking probiotics or eating yogurt can help prevent some of these symptoms. Always check with your doctor first, since some antibiotics work better on an empty stomach.
Antibiotic resistance is a side effect of misusing antibiotics. This occurs when bacteria are able to overpower the antibiotic, making it much more difficult to cure an infection if it comes back. To prevent this, only take antibiotics when prescribed by your doctor, and always follow their instructions. Never stop taking your antibiotics without talking to your doctor first, even if you’re feeling better. Never take antibiotics that were prescribed to someone else or old antibiotics that you may have at home.
Knowing the difference between antibiotics and antivirals, plus the proper way to use them, can help you understand the reasoning behind your prescriptions and your doctor’s instructions when treating an illness. This way you can be certain that you’re getting the most effective treatment possible.