How Long Does It Take For Antibiotics To Work?
CDC data reporting shows that US Doctors write out approximately 260 million new antibiotic prescriptions yearly. This means that roughly 793 of every 1000 individuals residing in the US will have an illness or infection requiring a course of prescription antibiotics within a given year. So you would be correct if you guessed that this makes antibiotics one of the most prescribed classes of prescription drugs.
There are several solid reasons to explain the prevalence of antibiotic use. Antibiotics are prescribed to treat everything from an ear infection to bacterial rhinosinusitis or a urinary tract infection (UTI). In addition to these common ailments, medical professionals rely on antibiotics to treat more complex conditions in dental, surgical, and hospital settings.
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What Is An Antibiotic?
Let’s look at the history of antibiotics and what an antibiotic actually is. The name “Antibiotic” literally means “against life,” which is an admittedly alarming name for a class of drugs we frequently use. The title refers to the antibiotic’s antimicrobial nature.
The antibiotic is against the life of the microbe. Antibiotics are a broad class of antimicrobial drugs that include antibacterials, antivirals, antifungals, and antiparasitics. Antibiotics also include broad-spectrum antibiotics that can treat a wide range of microbes falling into one or more classes, as mentioned earlier. The goal of antibiotic treatment is the reduction or elimination of infection-causing bacterial cells within the body.
Antibiotics first arrived on the medical front with the 1920’s discovery of Penicillin by British scientist Alexander Fleming. Fleming discovered that a variety of mold growing on the same petri dish as a bacterial sample was able to degrade and destroy the bacteria.
Seeing the possible value that this antibacterial activity could have for humans and animals who, at the time, were particularly susceptible to severe illness and death due to bacterial infections. Fleming began studying the antibacterial properties of penicillin in earnest. Other scientists in Europe and the United States quickly picked up his work.
Soon, penicillin was widely used to prevent bacterial infections in soldiers fighting in WWII. Before long, it made its way out to the general public, who began to rely on it to alleviate everything from infection of the ears to respiratory infections.
The advent and adoption of antibiotics are credited with saving countless children and adults. Before antibiotics, people frequently lost their lives to the complications caused by severe infections when their immune systems couldn’t fight off the invading microbes. Over the years since the widespread use of antibiotics began, the offerings and abilities of this class of drugs have expanded far beyond penicillin.
Today antibacterial drugs like penicillin and its modern offshoots are still the most common antibiotics prescribed to treat common infection of the ears, bacterial rhinosinusitis, and more.
What Do Antibiotics Treat?
There is most often a great deal of confusion surrounding the question of what types of conditions antibiotics treat. This confusion often lies in semantics. As discussed earlier in this article, the term ‘antibiotic’ is a broad umbrella term used to describe a class of drugs that include antibacterials, antivirals, antifungals, and antiparasitics. That being said, the most commonly prescribed and used antibiotics are the antibacterial variety.
Antibiotics are typically prescribed to treat a broad range of ailments caused by an overgrowth of bacteria due to illness or injury. For example, antibiotics are commonly used to cure infections of the ears, sinus infections, bacterial rhinosinusitis, other upper respiratory tract diseases, and UTIs.
You will also see antibiotics used frequently to help manage mouth infections before or after a dental procedure. Antibiotics also treat or prevent disease after injury or surgery and treat skin infections.
How Do Antibiotics Work?
The most common antibiotic, antibacterial antibiotics, may use several mechanisms to attack bacterial cells to stop the spread of infection in the body. Bacterial cells generally feature robust walls designed to stand up to the body’s natural immune system to allow the bacteria to thrive inside its human host.
Bacteriostatic Antibiotics typically work by breaking down the protective wall of the bacteria so that the body’s own immune system can destroy the cell. In other cases, they may work by interfering with the bacterial cell’s ability to replicate or the cell’s metabolism; these processes degrade or eliminate the bacterial cell’s ability to reproduce and spread infection throughout the human body.
How Long Does It Take For Antibiotics To Work?
Antibiotics go to work attacking the bacterial cells in your body as soon as they are administered. This means that the moment the antibiotic comes into contact with the bacterial cells, it will begin to destroy or interfere with the cell’s function immediately. However, it may take some time before the symptoms caused by the infection begin to ease, depending on the seriousness and kind of condition.
As a general rule of thumb, most people will notice a reduction in the severity of their symptoms within a few days of treatment when antibiotics are used for common conditions such as infections of the ears, urinary tract infections, and bacterial rhinosinusitis.
However, it is essential to remember that the reduction of symptoms should not be taken as an indication that the infection is gone. Always use the entire course of antibiotics as prescribed to ensure that all harmful bacteria are destroyed, or the infection may return.
What Are The Best & Safest Antibiotics To Use?
Antibiotics are a broad class of drugs, and different antibiotics work for different types of bacteria. This means that the “best” antibiotics to use are the antibiotics that are specifically tailored to treat the exact bacteria that is causing the infection. For example, some antibiotics, called broad-spectrum antibiotics, can treat various bacterial infections.
In contrast, other antibiotics are only effective against a specific type of bacteria. A medical professional will determine the best kind of antibiotic to treat a particular condition or other ailments.
The safety of various antibiotics depends on some factors, and the “safest” antibiotics for an individual to use will largely be determined by the individual’s unique medical history. For example, suppose an individual has experienced an allergy to penicillin in the past. In that case, the medical professional may determine not to use any antibiotics in the penicillin family. However, most patients would tolerate this particular family of antibiotics well.
When Are Antibiotics Required?
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. Importantly, antibiotics are not the same as antiviral drugs and should not be administered for viral infections like the common cold, influenza, or COVID. A healthcare professional can determine if an ailment or condition warrants antibiotic treatment and which antibiotics will be the most effective.
What Is Antibiotic Resistance?
Due to the increased prevalence of antibiotic resistance, there has been a concerted effort to reduce the reliance on antibiotics to treat minor infections. However, bacteria are living organisms with the ability to evolve. As bacteria encounter antibiotics over and over, they eventually develop a defense mechanism that allows them to evade the effects of the antibiotic. When bacteria can withstand the assault of an antibiotic, the bacteria have become antibiotic resistant. As more and more bacteria begin to develop resistance to antibiotics, it becomes more difficult for antibiotics to do the work of treating severe infections.
What Are The Most Common Side Effects Of Antibiotics?
The majority of antibiotics are well tolerated by most individuals. However, the most common side effects experienced by antibiotic use stem from the fact that antibiotics affect the body by targeting and destroying the beneficial bacteria that naturally exist inside the body, alongside the harmful bacteria.
Some individuals may experience nausea, diarrhea, skin rashes, or yeast infections during or immediately following a course of antibiotics. Taking probiotics along with your antibiotic prescription can replace the beneficial bacteria in your system to help prevent, reduce, or eliminate these side effects.
In rare instances, an allergic reaction can occur. In these instances, side effects can be severe and may require medical attention.
When Is It Time To See A Health Professional?
The clinical pharmacology of antibiotics is complex, with many factors determining the potential beneficial and adverse effects that antibiotic use may have on the individual. For this reason, antibiotics should only be taken when prescribed by a licensed medical professional. A healthcare provider will prescribe the appropriate antibiotic for your specific infection and monitor the outcome of the antibiotic treatment.
However, suppose your symptoms have not resolved or worsened, or you have developed new symptoms after completing your course of antibiotics. In that case, it is time to contact a healthcare professional.
Be aware that some individuals may experience an allergic reaction to a particular antibiotic, as with any drug. Severe allergic reactions can be life-threatening. If you suspect you are experiencing an allergic reaction to antibiotics, or other medications, seek medical assistance immediately.
Frequently Asked Questions
Antibiotics begin attacking the bacterial cells immediately. However, depending on the seriousness of the infection and the specific type of bacteria, it may take several days to notice an improvement in your symptoms.
The time it takes for antibiotics to get to the target cells will differ depending on the type of antibiotic and the route of administration. Some antibiotics are administered intravenously and enter the bloodstream immediately. Oral antibiotics must be allowed to work through at least some portion of the digestive system before they begin to build up in the body. Oral antibiotics may take several hours to a day or more to reach peak concentration and begin to combat the infection.
While many infected cysts may resolve without antibiotic treatment, if an infected cyst becomes significantly inflamed, a healthcare professional may prescribe a course of antibiotics to help cure the infection. In this case, most people will notice a reduced inflammation of the infected cyst within a few days of beginning treatment. However, the antibiotics may take a week or two to resolve the infection entirely.
The penicillin family of antibiotics is most commonly used to treat tonsillitis, strep throat, and other throat infections.
Penicillins can take some time to build up to peak concentration in the system. For this reason, it can take many days for this antibiotic to resolve the symptoms of tonsillitis.
While a UTI may resolve naturally, without antibiotics, antibiotics can help reduce the duration of the condition and the severity of the symptoms. In addition, it can help prevent serious complications that can occur if a UTI is allowed to go unresolved for an extended period. For most individuals, antibiotics will reduce or eliminate the symptoms of a UTI within a few days of beginning treatment.
The length of time that an antibiotic remains active within the body and continues to provide a therapeutic effect varies depending on the type of antibiotic administered. While most commonly prescribed antibiotics are short-acting and cease to be active in the systems within a few hours of the final dose. Other antibiotics remain in the system for up to several weeks following treatment. Remember, while an antibiotic may remain present in the system, its beneficial action may be significantly reduced or eliminated over time.
The length of time antibiotics remain in the system depends mainly on the specific type of antibiotic. Some antibiotics are flushed out of the system within hours of the final dose. In contrast, others may remain in the system for several weeks after treatment.
The speed with which an antibiotic begins to attack the bacterial cells depends mainly on the antibiotic used and the route of administration. Antibiotics administered intravenously enter the bloodstream and start working immediately following contact with the bacterial cells. Oral and topical antibiotics may take a few hours to a few days to reach peak concentration in the body and begin working to break down the bacterial cells.