Healthy Living

Antibiotic Dos and Don’ts: Tips for Staying Healthy While Taking an Antibiotic

Nov. 17, 2023

Antibiotics can help you feel better after some common illnesses by fighting the bacteria that cause these infections. Besides taking the prescribed dose, there are some other, lesser-known things that can help you recover as quickly as possible.

Infectious Disease researcher Ghinwa Dumyati, MD, and Emergency Medicine physician Bohdan Klymochko, DO, offer advice for the next time your doctor prescribes one.

How do antibiotics work?

Antibiotics are medications that disrupt the normal function of bacteria in certain infections, such as strep throat, bacterial pneumonia, and urinary tract infections. Antibiotics can come in pills, liquids, ointments, creams, or injectables.

Antibiotics don’t work against viral infections. Using antibiotics to try to treat viruses, like the common cold or flu, can do harm. Physicians are especially concerned that overuse of antibiotics could lead to the development of new, antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. It’s important to always consult with a health care professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

What should I do when starting a new antibiotic?

  1. Follow the prescription exactly, including taking it with or without food. Some foods can affect the body's absorbtion of certain antibiotics, reducing effectiveness.
  2. You may start to feel better soon after the first few doses but be sure to finish the full course as prescribed. If you don’t, the bacteria might not be fully eliminated from your system.
  3. Take it at the same time every day to maintain consistent levels in your body.
  4. Watch for side effects, allergic reactions, and signs of a yeast infection. Contact your health care provider if you experience any of these.
  5. Tell your health care provider about all the medications, supplements, or herbal remedies you are taking. Some interactions with antibiotics can cause negative side effects or change their effectiveness. For example, some birth control pills may be less effective when taken with certain antibiotics.
  6. Avoid alcohol, as it can interact negatively with some antibiotics.
  7. Don't save or share any doses of the antibiotic.

How quickly will I start to feel better?

It varies, but symptoms can improve within 48 to 72 hours of starting the antibiotic. The body continues to respond and recover after the antibiotic course is complete. You may feel back to normal shortly after finishing the medication, but it may also take a bit longer.

Should I change my toothbrush after starting an antibiotic?

While some providers suggest getting a new toothbrush two or three days after starting an antibiotic for strep throat, expert opinions are mixed. More studies are needed on this topic to prove if it’s necessary.

How do antibiotics affect gut health?

Antibiotics can cause digestive issues because they can throw off the balance of good bacteria in your gut. This is another reason to only take antibiotics when prescribed by your provider. A healthy diet, including foods containing probiotics, can help restore good bacteria to your gut.

It’s common to experience a slightly upset stomach while taking antibiotics, but if you experience persistent symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, or fever, it's important to contact your health care provider. Some people can experience an infection in the colon called C. difficile, which can be serious.



Additional resources

About Antibiotic Use | Antibiotic Use | CDC

Antimicrobial Resistance Questions and Answers | Antibiotic Use | CDC

What is C. diff? | CDC