Antibiotics: Tips for Safe Use

In the time since penicillin was discovered nearly 80 years ago, antibiotics have become one of the most important lifesaving weapons in doctors' arsenal against bacterial infection.

Now, the Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix grocery store chain is giving away seven of these drugs free of charge to those who have prescriptions for them.

Five of these -- amoxicillin, ampicillin, cephalexin, erythromycin and penicillin VK -- are commonly used by doctors to treat bacterial infections ranging from ear infections to gonorrhea.

But two of the drugs on the list -- ciprofloxacin and sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim -- are high-grade antibiotics that doctors usually reserve for particularly serious infections.

While some hail the program as a godsend, others fear that the move could lead to overuse of the drugs.

This is because the use of antibiotics comes attached with important considerations. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, there are certain situations in which antibiotics are helpful -- and many in which they can cause more harm than good.

Here are just a few tips that consumers can use to keep themselves safe when it comes to antibiotics:

Skip the antibiotics for the flu and the common cold. Antibiotics do not work against all infections. By their very nature, they are effective against only those caused by bacteria. This means that if you are suffering from a viral infection like the common cold or seasonal flu, they will likely do nothing to improve your health.

Never take antibiotics that have not been prescribed to you by a doctor. Taking these drugs inappropriately may not only bring no benefit but may also increase the chances that harmful bacteria present in your body could develop resistance to the drugs. The more resistant a bacteria is to treatment, the more dangerous it becomes.

Always finish the entire course of antibiotics you receive. Even if you start to feel better in the middle of the course of treatment, you must finish every pill that has been prescribed to you by a doctor. Failing to do so could increase the chances of developing bacterial resistance.

Keep careful track of any adverse reactions you experience when taking antibiotics. Many people experience adverse effects when taking certain antibiotics, whether they're allergic reactions or something else. It is important to make a note of these reactions so you can inform your doctor and lessen your chances of receiving the same drug again.

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