How Long Does it Take for Antibiotics to Work?

In Diagnosis & Treatment, Online Doctor by Dr. Clinton Osborn

Antibiotics are drugs that help fight off bacterial infections. Because of how they function, some people also call them antibacterials. These medications are categorized into several classes depending on the type of infections they fight and what the antibacterial agent is. The most common examples of antibiotics include:

  • Penicillin – treats a wide variety of infections, including respiratory tract infections and ear infections.
  • Macrolides – treat skin infections, STIs, and tissue infections.
  • Tetracycline – treats respiratory tract infections, skin infections, urinary infections, and infections spread by insects.
  • Carbapenems – highly potent, known as antibiotics of last resort.
  • Sulfonamides – treats infections like UTIs and meningitis.

These drugs play a significant role in preventing fatal infections by inhibiting the spread of bacteria. Antibiotics fight infection by killing and eradicating the bacteria. Some antibiotics work faster than others. If you’re not feeling well, skip the waiting time and use an online doctor to get your prescription ready immediately. Once you’ve consulted with your doctor and received your medication, here’s what to expect from your doctor on demand.

Forms of Antibiotics

Antibiotics come in several forms, including:

  • Ointments and creams
  • Liquids
  • Tablets and capsules

These drugs are generally sold under different brand names, including:

History of Antibiotics and Penicillin Discovery

Penicillin was the first type of antibiotic known to mankind. Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered penicillin in a petri dish with mold. After a comprehensive research study following the discovery of penicillin, it was established that a particular fungus produces penicillin. It was also discovered that this fungus could be grown in the lab. As a result, scientists embarked on the mass production of this antibiotic drug using the fermentation process.

From then on, the formulation of antibiotics improved significantly, and technology has played a crucial role in their production. Currently, penicillin is made using various chemical reactions. There are some antibiotics using penicillin made by natural techniques.

What Do Antibiotics Do?

This class of drugs is designed to treat bacterial infections. In order to determine if you have a bacterial infection, the doctor will have to analyze your symptoms. This may involve blood tests and urine tests. 

Some of the bacterial infections which antibiotics treat include:

Don’t fret if you’re feeling too unwell to get out of your bed. See a Board Certified Physician or Nurse Practitioner to diagnose you online by video or audio, and pick up your antibiotics at a local drugstore.

Related: Why Should I Use an Online Doctor?

How Long Do Antibiotics Take To Work?

There isn’t a definite answer as to how long it takes antibiotics to work, but most of these drugs typically begin to work immediately if taken properly. Once you consume antibiotic medication, these antibiotics kick in right away to get rid of the bacteria. However, there are some antibiotic medications that might take days or weeks to finally work.

Fosfomycin is an antibiotic medication that is given as a single dose, and it works immediately. On the other hand, tetracycline usually takes several weeks before the patient can begin to experience its full effects. Gradual doses allow antibiotics to stay in the system for a longer period of time.

If the antibiotic medication begins working after a few hours, then you should feel better within a couple of days. However, this doesn’t mean that you should discontinue its use once you feel better. Ensure that you complete the antibiotic dose to reduce the chances of re-occurrences.

Bacterial Infections and Antibiotics

Antibiotic drugs are the most effective remedies for bacterial infections. They may slow down the growth of the microorganisms or completely kill them.

How exactly does this happen? Depending on the type of drug, antibiotic medication can work by:

  1. Inhibiting the bacteria from producing protein. Note that proteins are essential building blocks for bacterial development.
  2. Inhibiting further production of bacteria. Bacterial inhibition happens when the antibiotic stops bacterial reproduction.
  3. Directly attacking the bacteria and destroying its cell walls.

Related: STD vs STI – What Are the Differences?

Why Short-Term Antibiotics Use Is Good

It’s essential to take these useful drugs as recommended. Taking antibiotic medication for an extended period can increase your chances of suffering from unwanted side effects. 

Doctors previously prescribed antibiotics for long-term use. Health care providers previously thought that patients needed to use medications for a longer time for bacteria to be eliminated. However, clinical research studies have established that using antibiotic medication over a long period of time is actually harmful. 

It’s now clear that bacteria thrives in a very complex ecosystem. It should be noted that the body hosts other beneficial bacteria. So, what happens when you take antibiotics for longer? The harmful bacteria will first get eliminated. Then, the beneficial bacteria in your body will also get destroyed. This will definitely cause interference in the normal functioning of the body system.

Generally, over-treating bacterial infections are harmful. As a matter of fact, this scenario will result in severe health problems. The eventual effect is antibiotic resistance. If a similar bacterial infection occurs in the future, your body won’t respond effectively to the prescribed treatment regimen with the same antibiotic medication.

Note: Doctors have to be careful when writing a prescription. As much as short-term use of antibiotics is good, they should also not under-prescribe it. In case this happens, the patient will not be fully treated. Besides that, the level of infectious bacteria will increase significantly. Once you complete an under-dose, the chances are that you will end up with a more severe infection.

Antibiotic Resistance

It’s possible for the body to resist antibiotics. This usually occurs when the bacteria evolves and becomes stronger. As a result, it becomes impossible to control antibiotic resistance by taking antibiotics. Keep in mind that some conditions are entirely untreatable. Research studies indicate that millions of people suffer and die annually as a result of antibiotic resistance.

Types of Resistant Infections

These are infections that are resistant to antibiotic treatment:

  • Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE): this bacterial group is highly resistant to antibiotics. CRE infections typically occur among people who use mechanical ventilators. It’s also common among admitted patients.
  • Clostridium difficile (C. diff): this bacteria is also resistant to numerous antibiotics. This opportunistic pathogen affects typically large and small intestines.
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA): Staphylococcus aureus is an opportunistic pathogen, and MRSA infections are prevalent on the skin. They mostly affect people with weak immune systems.

How to Take Antibiotics Appropriately

You can under- or over-treat yourself with antibiotics. In case either happens, understand that your condition will not get fully treated. In order to use these medications correctly, consider the following:

  1. Follow Instructions: use these drugs as prescribed by the physician. Do not overdose or skip some of the doses. Understand that taking antibiotics for a longer or shorter period might cause serious infections. Take the antibiotic medication on the prescribed schedule, not consuming the antibiotics too early or too late.
  2. They are for bacterial infections only; take antibiotics if you are sure you have a bacterial infection. Antibiotic medication, as its name suggests, is only suitable for bacterial infections and not viral infections.
  3. Use the appropriate medication, since there are several classes of antibiotic medication. It’s vital to use the right antibiotic drug for the right infection. Using the wrong medicine for bacterial infections can result in serious side effects.

Note: Before using antibiotics, it’s important first to consult with your healthcare provider. They will be able to carry out tests and determine the cause of infection. They will also recommend the appropriate antibiotic and the best duration of use.

Prescription and OTC Antibiotics

Usually, bacterial infections are treated with prescription drugs. This means that the doctor has to prescribe a specific drug that can eliminate that particular strain of bacteria. This helps to reduce the chances of side effects, flare-ups, and resistance. 

In the US, the FDA doesn’t approve of the use of OTC antibiotics. This is important in reducing the chances of a patient taking the wrong antibiotic drug. However, there are still some over-the-counter antibiotics. Over-the-counter antibiotics include bacterial infection creams and balms for skin problems.

Possible Side Effects

Just like other drugs, antibiotics can also cause side effects. Most people typically end up with side effects such as:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Allergic reactions, such as swollen lips, tongue, or face.
  • Blood in stool

Note: most people often experience mild side effects that usually disappear after a few hours. However, the side effects can be severe, like blood in the stool or severe diarrhea. Alternately, some antibiotics aren’t working right away if taken incorrectly. In case this happens, seek immediate medical attention.

The Bottom Line

These drugs are lifesavers. Antibiotics are perfect remedies for treating bacterial infections. When you use them as recommended, you will end up feeling better in no time. Keep in mind that the type of drug and the duration of use are crucial. This is because any slight alteration may render the antibiotic ineffective. Therefore it’s vital to consult with your doctor before starting any treatment regimen.

At GuruMD, the most expedient healthcare is at your fingertips. Our online doctors are equipped to provide you with urgent care treatment for the flu, STIs, yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and other health problems that require antibiotic prescriptions. Skip the long lines and feel better as quickly as possible.

Related: Bronchitis vs. Pneumonia – Which One Is It?