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7 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Taking Antibiotics


It is important to be very careful with antibiotics: not to harm our health and not to contribute to their decreasing effectiveness.


[This text has been written by Marina Tarrús, Victoria Ballén, Natalia Rosón and Sara Soto.]


1. Can I take an antibiotic when I think I need it, even if it has not been prescribed by a doctor?

No, you should only take antibiotics when the treatment has been prescribed by a physician because only they have the necessary expertise in infections and how to treat them with antibiotics. Your doctor will first identify what kind of infection you have (whether it is caused by a virus or a bacteria, for example) and then prescribe the appropriate treatment. Remember that antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections. Protocols have been developed to assist medical personnel in making a diagnosis. These are made available through regional, national and international health networks, such as the PROA programme, and are included in guidelines produced by teams of health professionals. Doctors use these protocols to monitor the patient’s condition and symptoms and to decide on the most appropriate treatment in each case. For example, a patient with a mild bacterial infection may be prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs to alleviate their symptoms, thereby avoiding the need for antibiotic treatment. Or the treatment may be modified several times depending on the patient’s immune response.



2. Can I modify the prescribed antibiotic regimen if I am feeling better?

No, under no circumstances should you modify the treatment regimen (by changing the interval between doses for example) or discontinue treatment without specific instructions from your doctor! If you feel better it may be because the antibiotic therapy is working, but you must still complete the whole course of treatment prescribed by your doctor to ensure that all of the bacteria that caused the infection are eliminated and to reduce the chances of developing an infection caused by bacteria that are resistant to the antibiotics you are taking. Furthermore, if you still have symptoms after you complete a course of antibiotics, you should schedule a follow-up consultation with your physician, who will evaluate the situation and, if necessary, adjust the antibiotic regimen.



3. Can I take antibiotics left over from a previous treatment?

No, you should not save leftover doses of an antibiotic once you have completed the prescribed course of treatment. And you should never use leftover antibiotics to self-medicate when you think you have a bacterial infection or pass them on to someone you trust who asks you for the drugs because they think they need them. Only a doctor can evaluate whether a patient needs antibiotic treatment and prescribe the appropriate medication. If the box you receive from the pharmacy contains more antibiotics than you need to complete the prescribed course, once you have completed your treatment you must take the leftover medication back to the pharmacy and deposit it in the white SIGRE drop-off bin (Punto SIGRE). You can dispose of any kind of medication you no longer require in these bins. If you do this, as well as taking care of your own health you will also be taking care of the environment because anything disposed of in SIGRE bins will be properly treated and disposed of as medication, something that does not happen when medications are discarded in a general waste bin. Medication in Spain is currently not supplied in exact individualised quantities, although work is being done to make this possible in the future. So, any antibiotics left over after you have completed the prescribed course are the result of issues related to production or logistics and have nothing to do with the appropriate treatment or the number of doses you should take.



4. Can I take expired antibiotics?

No. Expired antibiotics will not be effective. The expiration date indicates the point at which the drug compounds have deteriorated and lost their potency against the bacterial microorganism. This can be because the active ingredient is no longer effective or because the preservatives in the medication have deteriorated more rapidly due to factors such as fluctuations in temperature, light or humidity. In the worst case scenario, expired antibiotics can become toxic. Whenever you get sick and do not feel better after a few days, you should consult a health professional, who will identify your symptoms and prescribe an appropriate treatment. If you have been prescribed antibiotics and you have the same medication at home which has expired, take the expired drugs to the drop-off bin in your local pharmacy (Punto SIGRE) and buy the medication you have been prescribed. Remember, if there is medication left over after you complete the prescribed course of treatment, you must also deposit this in a SIGRE bin.



5. Can I take two antibiotic tablets at once if I have skipped a dose by mistake?

No. If you skip a dose of an antibiotic, the level of the antibiotic in your body will drop and the bacteria will start to multiply again. This may result in the bacteria becoming resistant to the antibiotic, which would make the treatment less effective. However, it is not advisable to take two doses at the same time as this could be toxic. The best way to proceed is to take the following dose at the appropriate time. A piece of useful advice: set an alarm to remind yourself to take each dose—a strategy that will work equally well for both oral and topical antibiotics. You must take all the doses prescribed and never skip doses or stop treatment even if the infection appears to have been eliminated.



6. Can I mix antibiotics with other medications?

You should always tell your doctor what other medications you are taking because antibiotics can interact with other drugs, for example certain anticoagulants and antacids, and they may even reduce the effectiveness of contraceptive pills.


7. Can I mix antibiotics with alcohol?

In general, when taken in moderate amounts, alcohol does not affect antibiotic therapy. However, there are some exceptions, such as metronidazole, which can cause adverse effects, including tachycardia and hot flushes, when mixed with alcohol.