Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tips on how to finish those antibiotics

My son and I are on yet another round of antibiotics, this time for strep throat. I’ve always been a bit cautious with antibiotics, I suppose because my father is an immunologist and rarely drugged us as kids. He sort laughed off that notion it seemed everyone else had that if your nose runs, all you need to do is call the doc and load up on some antibiotics. My father argued that antibiotics did nothing for viruses, the cause of the flu, most sore throats, bronchitis and the common cold. If anything, he said, taking them unnecessarily could arm the body with a resistance to antibiotic treatment in the future.

antibioticsBut there were those many occasions when my sister and I fell ill with strep throat and my father (who personally swabbed our throats, much to our dismay) brought home a bottle of antibiotics. Even though we started to feel better, he insisted we finish our course. I didn’t realize then why doing so was so important.

Antibiotics are prescribed for bacterial infections, such as strep throat or ear infections. And those infections tend to respond quickly to antibiotic treatment. Finishing your full prescription is vitally important for several reasons.

First, the dose of medication prescribed to you is designed to be enough to kill all the disease-causing bacteria in your system. If you stop taking your antibiotics when you start to feel better, the bacteria may still be in your body and could come back in the same place or in another location. And who wants a relapse?

Secondly, if you under treat bacteria with a less-than-appropriate dosage of antibiotics, the bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics. Bacteria multiply quickly and can mutate and become pretty bad ass. Stopping your treatment early can give those little germs the ability to build back up and potentially get stronger and more dangerous. Knocking bacteria out with a full dose of antibiotics ensures a rapid and efficient recovery.

But remember to take (or give) any medication twice a day for 10 days can be easy to forget, especially when the sick party looks and feels completely healthy. Here are some tips to help you stay on course:

1. Write yourself a note. If you walk into my kitchen you’ll see a big note on the breakfast room table that reads, “Rx.” It reminds me to dole out our antibiotics every morning at breakfast and every evening at dinnertime. Without it I would completely forget.

2. Make a drug calendar that clearly shows when the medication should be discontinued. Mark off each dose each time you dole out the medicine. This is particularly helpful with liquids that may not necessarily empty completely when the protocol is complete. Luckily, my 20-tablet pill bottle (which I started the same day and time as my son started his liquid) helps me know when our cycle of drugs is complete. When my pill bottle is empty, my son’s course is finished, too.

3. Ask if the medicine has to be refrigerated. The label on my son’s first round of antibiotics clearly stated that the medicine had to be kept in the refrigerator. For whatever reason, after the fifth day, I stuck the bottle in the medicine cabinet. When I realized this in time for the next dose, I assumed it was bad and tossed it out. When I called the nurse to see if it was OK to just stop taking it all together, the nurse said to just continue with the un-refrigerated medicine. For no reason, she said, was I to stop the medicine in mid-treatment. So, I fished it out of the trash. Yeah, I know. Gross.

4. As your doctor to prescribe a medicine with more convenient doses. For example, ask if he can prescribe the antibiotic to be given two times or less a day. The fewer the doses a day, the fewer times you have to forget.

Sources: CDC, iVillage.com
Flickr, lu_lu

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