Wednesday, 18th September, 2019

Keep Antibiotics Working

What are Antibiotics?

Antibiotics are medicines used to treat or prevent some types of bacterial infection. They may kill the bacteria itself or work to prevent it from spreading, but antibiotics do not work for everything, nor do they work for viral infections like colds, flu, coughs and sore throats.

A lot of mild bacterial infections get better without antibiotics. Your doctor will advise you on whether you need antibiotics or not. If your doctor does prescribe you antibiotics, it’s important that you use them exactly as your doctor has advised.

What is antibiotic resistance and why is this important?

Taking antibiotics can cause harmful bacteria in your body to become resistant to the antibiotic, especially if they are not needed. Antibiotic resistance is a big problem - taking antibiotics when you don’t need them, or taking them incorrectly means they may not work for you in future when you really need them. This can put you and your family at risk of a more severe or longer illness.

You should always take your doctor or nurse’s advice when it comes to antibiotics. You can also ask your pharmacist for advice on how to take your antibiotics. As well as making sure you take them exactly as prescribed, it’s important that you only take or use them for the infection they have been prescribed for; never saving them for later and never sharing them with others. If you have any unused antibiotics left at home, it’s best to return these to your local pharmacy to be disposed of safely.

When are antibiotics needed?

Antibiotics may be prescribed for bacterial infections that:

  • Are not likely to, or could take too long to clear up without antibiotics
  • Could infect others around you
  • Have a risk of more serious complications

Antibiotics are needed for more serious bacterial infections such as sepsis, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted infections or meningococcal meningitis. Some groups of people may be at a higher risk of infection, so they may be given antibiotics as a precaution.

If you have any concerns or questions, speak to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist for more advice on treating your symptoms.

How you can look after yourself and your family:

No one likes being sick, and it can be particularly upsetting when your child is ill. If you or someone in your family is feeling unwell, here are some things you can do to help you feel better:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • If you have a fever, this usually means your body is fighting the infection and will get better by itself, but if it’s causing discomfort you can take some Paracetamol.
  • Always use a tissue for your nose and wash your hands regularly; this will help to prevent passing the infection to others.
  • Visit your local pharmacy if you can, the pharmacist can recommend over the counter medicines to help ease symptoms or pain.

How long should my symptoms last for?

Common illnesses will usually get better on their own. It might feel like it’s taking a long time, or you might feel worse before you start to feel better. Here are some guidelines to give you an idea of how long some common illnesses should last for:

Earache (middle ear infection): 8 days

Cold: 14 days

Cough or bronchitis: 21 days

Sore throat: 7 to 8 days

Sinusitis (adults): 14 to 21 days

If your symptoms don’t start to get better after these guide times or if they start to become severe (see below), you should contact your GP or NHS 111 for advice.

When to seek urgent medical help:

Some symptoms may be a sign of a more serious complication or underlying problem. These include:

  • Skin that is very cold or has an unusual colour or unusual rash
  • Feeling confused, very drowsy or having slurred speech
  • Having difficulty breathing (fast breathing, blue lips/mouth, skin around the ribs getting pulled in with every breath)
  • Severe headache and vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Having trouble swallowing or are drooling
  • Coughing up blood
  • Feeling a lot worse

If you or your child experience any of these symptoms or feel worse or sicker than you would expect, you should seek urgent medical advice from your GP or NHS 111.

Remember to never share antibiotics or save them for later. Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them can put you and your family at risk. If you want to join others in protecting yourself, your family and friends against the spread of antibiotic resistance, you can become an Antibiotic Guardian.

For more information on antibiotics, check out the NHS Inform website