6 things you need to know about antibiotics to use them correctly

6 things you need to know about antibiotics to use them correctly

This prescription medicine is commonly used to help us recover when we're sick. But you need to use them the right way to get the most out of them.

Our experts: DR WONG WEI MON, deputy medical director, Raffles Medical, and DR CHRISTINA LOW, medical director, Lifescan Medical Centre (Paragon branch)

1. They are only prescribed for microbial infections

Antibiotics are prescribed as a course and are administered topically, orally or intravenously.

Dr Wong Wei Mon, deputy medical director of Raffles Medical, says they are used to treat a range of illnesses, including bacterial conjunctivitis, sinusitis, external and middle ear infections, streptococcus throat infection, traveller's diarrhoea, urinary tract infection, bacterial skin infections and pustular acne.

"Antibiotics are a powerful medicine," says Dr Wong. "They assist the body's natural defences to fight microbial infections, by killing bacteria or slowing their growth."

Dr Christina Low, medical director of Lifescan Medical Centre (Paragon branch) adds: "Our immune system is capable of destroying the bacteria, but in instances where the infection becomes too much for the body to fight off on its own, antibiotics can help, thereby allowing our natural defences to take over again."

2. Use them responsibly

Dr Wong warns that using antibiotics inappropriately can breed antibiotic-resistant bugs.

He advises only starting a course of antibiotics when the treatment has been initiated by a doctor, taking the prescribed dosage at appropriate times and via the appropriate route (topical, oral or intravenous), not skipping doses and always finishing a course of treatment, even if you feel better.

And you should never save your antibiotics for later or use someone else's prescription, Dr Wong adds.

3. They don't work on cold and flu viruses

It's a common belief that antibiotics can be used to treat all symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.

The truth is that they are useless against infections caused by viruses, such as colds, flu, most coughs and bronchitis, and sore throat, unless they are caused by streptococcus, which accounts for the bulk of cases, says Dr Wong.

He adds that doctors have embarked on a mission to educate the public on responsible and appropriate antibiotic use.

4. They must be doctor-prescribed

Don't expect to get antibiotics at the pharmacy. Your general practitioner (GP) should be the only one prescribing them to you, as he would know if you need them.

"Antibiotics should be administered via the appropriate route, at the correct dosage and dose interval, and for an appropriate duration," says Dr Wong.

"Doctors are trained to identify the response to treatment, and advise on and address certain adverse reactions that may arise. Some antibiotics are toxic to humans, even when given in therapeutic doses."

5. Always complete a course of antibiotics

Dr Low says that finishing the course reduces the likelihood that there will be any bacteria left in your body that could potentially become resistant to antibiotics.

6. Antibiotic resistance is a real problem

When you stop a course of antibiotics prematurely, some bacteria may survive that may develop mechanisms to protect themselves from the antibiotics they have been exposed to, only to return as ever more resilient and drug-resistant bugs.

"Around the globe, infections we thought we had conquered once and for all are returning as a new breed of germs that doctors are calling 'superbugs', or bacteria that are resistant to almost all antibiotics," says Dr Wong.

"The World Health Organisation has classified antimicrobial resistance as a 'serious threat' to humanity. The emergence of multi-drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis, for example, poses a major public health problem that threatens any progress made in tuberculosis care and control worldwide. Drug-resistant gonorrhoea cases are also on the rise."


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