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Antibiotics: What you need to know

Antibiotics are often misused and misunderstood. Incorrect use of them can cause various problems for individuals and the general public. Fayyaz Haq, M.D., internal medicine specialist, gives answers to some of the most important questions regarding antibiotic use.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people are dying in the United States due to antibiotic resistance,” says Fayyaz Haq, M.D., an internal medicine specialist at Piedmont Hospital. “We now have what is called “superbugs,” which is bacteria that is resistant to most of the antibiotics that are currently out there. We can’t produce drugs fast enough to fight off these new superbugs.”

Dr. Haq says a lot of people ask for antibiotics, but they don’t necessarily need them. “The only way to determine if you need antibiotics is to see a physician,” says Dr. Haq. “Depending on your symptoms and signs, a culture may be required to verify your need for an antibiotic.” When antibiotics are considered the best course of action, proper dosage is key. Factors such as the age and size of the patient can affect how much is prescribed.

Dr. Haq says the elderly cannot process the drugs as well as younger people, so they typically need a smaller dose. However, those who are younger and have faster metabolisms need more.

If you are pregnant or nursing, make sure your doctor is aware of your situation so he or she can treat you accordingly. Antibiotics should be avoided in the first trimester as there is a higher risk of birth defects. They can also get into breast milk and be transferred to a nursing baby. Many people think they have an allergy to antibiotics such as penicillin, when, in fact, they are experiencing a side effect. “When you take a good patient history, you find out that only about 10 to 20 percent who claim allergy of penicillin may be allergic,” says Dr. Haq.

If you are concerned, you can get tested for an allergy to penicillin or be sensitized by getting higher doses of penicillin. Dr. Haq advises to never use another person’s antibiotics. “Antibiotics are prescribed for specific reasons to treat specific patients and should always be used as directed by the physician. Patients should take their medications as directed and always take the full course of treatment.”

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