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Prescribed a course of antibiotics recently? Use them wisely to feel your best.

When you feel sick, rest, fluids and over-the-counter medication are in order — and maybe a visit to your healthcare provider. And in some cases, they’ll prescribe something stronger: antibiotics.

What are antibiotics?

“Antibiotics are medicines used to fight bacterial infections,” says Kelly Guza, PharmD, associate vice president of acute pharmacy services at Geisinger. “They work by killing bacteria in the body and preventing bacterial growth.”

When you’ve got strep throat or a pesky UTI, antibiotics can bring fast relief. And they prevent infection as you heal after surgery or an injury.

But when you’re taking them, there are a few things to do (and not do) to make the experience a smooth one.

What to do while taking antibiotics

When starting your course of antibiotics, keep these do’s at top of mind to limit side effects and get back to feeling better. “Using antibiotics properly can also help prevent antibiotic resistance,” says Dr. Guza.

Tell your provider about other medications

Before your provider prescribes you antibiotics, tell them about any other medications you’re taking. “This can help avoid potential drug interactions or side effects,” Dr. Guza says. Not sure what to mention? Think prescriptions, over-the-counter meds and any vitamins or supplements.

Take them as prescribed

When they write your prescription, your provider will include instructions for how to take the antibiotics. Some are meant to be taken at the same time every day. Others may need to be taken with (or without) food. Follow those directions exactly as they’re written for maximum effectiveness.

Watch for side effects

Some antibiotics can cause side effects like an upset stomach or diarrhea. These are common and will go away when you finish your medicine.

Contact your healthcare provider if you notice more serious side effects, like:

  • Persistent or severe diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever

“These can be symptoms of a serious infection called Clostridum dificile , or C. diff,” says Dr. Guza. If you do develop C. diff, your healthcare provider may prescribe a different type of antibiotic to combat that infection.

Another thing to look for with antibiotics? Allergic reactions.

Common antibiotic allergy symptoms include:

  • Skin rashes (although not all rashes are true allergies)
  • Hives
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the tongue, face or lips

If you do have symptoms of an allergic reaction, contact your healthcare provider right away. Call 911 or get to the nearest emergency room if you have severe symptoms like shortness of breath or face swelling.

Try a probiotic

Because they kill good as well as bad bacteria, antibiotics can wreak havoc on your stomach. Some can also lead to a yeast infection. To minimize stomach upset and restore healthy bacteria, try taking your antibiotic with a probiotic. Start your probiotic the same day as your antibiotic — and for maximum effectiveness, take it two hours after your antibiotic.

Continue the probiotic for a few weeks after you finish your antibiotic to build healthy bacteria back up.

The array of probiotics available is huge, so if you’re not sure which to use, talk to your pharmacist or other healthcare provider. They can help you find the right one.

What not to do while on antibiotics

Taking antibiotics properly can smooth your path to recovery. That’s why knowing what to avoid matters, too. Consider these don’ts the next time you have a prescription.

Don’t take them unnecessarily

Have a cold? Antibiotics won’t help. “Because antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, they won’t work on viruses, like colds or flu,” Dr. Guza says. Using them improperly can raise your risk of antibiotic resistance. This means future infections won’t respond as well when you do need antibiotics.

Don’t use medicine that’s old or not yours

Thinking about using that old penicillin in the back of your medicine cabinet? Think again. Medicine loses effectiveness over time. So those old pills you’ve had since the last time you were sick may not work as well as they did before (or at all). Another no-no: taking an antibiotic prescribed for someone else. But because your partner’s antibiotic wasn’t prescribed to tackle your toothache, it may not be the right dose or the right kind. Or you could be allergic. Play it safe and talk to your provider instead.

Don’t stop taking antibiotics too soon

You may start to feel better before you finish your prescription. But keep taking your antibiotics until they’re gone, even if your symptoms have cleared up. “Symptoms can start improving before the infection is cleared,” says Dr. Guza. Stopping your medicine early could leave you feeling sick if the infection isn’t entirely gone. And it can make you more likely to have future drug-resistant infections that don’t respond to antibiotics.

When in doubt, ask

If you have questions about antibiotics — what they’re for, how they work or how to take them — start by talking with your pharmacist. They’ll guide you through the do’s and don’ts of these bacteria-busters so you can get back to feeling like yourself again.

Next steps:

Get to know Geisinger Pharmacy
Taking supplements? Tell your provider
Traveling with medications? Here’s how to make it easier

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