Emily K. Hill Bowman, M.D.
When we use antibiotics is when we suspect a bacterial infection. There are a lot of different types of infections and one of the biggest distinctions we need to make is, is it a virus or is it a bacteria causing these symptoms. When we do suspect a bacteria that’s when we use an antibiotic.
Like with all medications there are benefits and then there are risks and side effects. So with antibiotics some risks would be side effects that include diarrhea or loosening of the bowels, also some stomach upset and nausea. Some people can get rashes or headaches and then another important infection that can happen from antibiotic use is a stomach infection that is called Clostridium Difficile or C-Diff. This is a very serious bowel infection that can be caused by antibiotics. Also in the big picture of things, sometimes if we use antibiotics when we shouldn’t or if we use them too short in duration, so if you don’t take your full course, that can lead to something called antibiotic resistance which means the antibiotics don’t work for bacteria that they should work for.
That is why we don’t want to give antibiotics if we suspect a viral illness because it will not help you get better and we could be exposing you to antibiotic resistance down the line.
The first question is do I need an antibiotic. That is one of the biggest things that we need to determine in clinic. Do we think this is viral or do we think this is bacterial? Then it is always important to ask about side effects for all medications especially antibiotics because some people don’t realize that there can be negative effects if we are using them inappropriately.
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