Antibiotic Dos and Don’ts: Tips for Staying Healthy While Taking an Antibiotic

Antibiotics can help you feel better after some common illnesses by fighting the bacteria that cause these infections. In addition to taking the prescribed dose, there are other lesser-known things that can help you recover as quickly as possible.

Infectious Disease researcher Ghinwa Dumyati, MD, and Dr. Bohdan Klymochko, DO, offer advice for the next time your doctor prescribes one.

How do antibiotics work?

Antibiotics are medications that disrupt the normal function of bacteria in certain infections, such as strep throat, bacterial pneumonia, and urinary tract infections. Antibiotics can come in pills, liquids, ointments, creams or injectables.

Antibiotics do not work against viral infections. Using antibiotics to try to treat viruses, such as the common cold or flu, can hurt. Doctors are particularly concerned that overuse of antibiotics could lead to the development of new antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. It is important to always consult with a health professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

What should I do when starting a new antibiotic?

  1. Follow the prescription exactly, including taking it with or without food. Certain foods can affect the body’s absorption of certain antibiotics, reducing their effectiveness.
  2. You may start to feel better soon after the first doses, but be sure to finish the full course as prescribed. If you don’t, the bacteria won’t be removed from your system.
  3. Take it at the same time every day to maintain consistent levels in your body.
  4. Watch for side effects, allergic reactions and signs of yeast infection. Contact your healthcare provider if you have any of these.
  5. Tell your health care provider about all medications, supplements, or herbal remedies you take. Some interactions with antibiotics can cause negative effects or change their effectiveness. For example, some birth control pills may be less effective when taken with certain antibiotics.
  6. Avoid alcohol, as it can interact negatively with some antibiotics.
  7. Do not save or split antibiotic doses.

How soon will you start feeling better?

It varies, but symptoms can improve within 48 to 72 hours of starting the antibiotic. The body continues to respond and recover after the antibiotic course is complete. You may feel back to normal shortly after finishing the medication, but it may take a little longer.

Should I change my toothbrush after starting an antibiotic?

While some providers suggest getting a new toothbrush two or three days after starting an antibiotic for strep throat, expert opinions are mixed. More studies are needed on this topic to prove if it is necessary.

How do antibiotics affect gut health?

Antibiotics can cause digestive problems because they can throw off the balance of good bacteria in your gut. This is another reason to take antibiotics only when prescribed by your doctor. A healthy diet, including foods that contain probiotics, can help restore good bacteria to your gut.

It is common to experience a slightly upset stomach while taking antibiotics, but if you have persistent symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea or fever, it is important to contact your health care provider. Some people can experience an infection in the colon called C. difficultthat can be serious.

Additional resources

About the use of the antibiotic | Antibiotic Use | CDC

Questions and Answers Antimicrobial Resistance | Antibiotic Use | CDC

What is C. diff? | CDC

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