An antibiotic is a powerful medication used to treat and cure infections caused by bacteria, either by killing the bacteria, or by slowing down their growth. “Can I get antibiotics over the counter,” is a commonly asked question. Generally speaking, the answer is no; because of their potency and the risks attached, most antibiotics require a prescription. To help you understand why, we have put together this comprehensive guide on antibiotics.

different types of antibiotics

What Are the Different Types of Antibiotics?

There are several different classes of antibiotics available to treat different types of bacterial infections, the most common of which include:

  • Cephalosporins

    • Prevents the formation of the bacterial cell wall
  • Fluoroquinolones

    • Keeps bacteria from making DNA 
  • Macrolides

    • Prevents bacteria from multiplying by keeping bacteria from making proteins
  • Penicillins

    • Prevents the formation of the bacterial cell wall. 
  • Sulfonamides

    • Stops bacteria from multiplying by inhibiting production of DNA and proteins
  • Tetracyclines

    • Stops bacteria from making proteins
different types of antibiotics

What Are Antibiotics Used For?

Antibiotics are only used to treat illnesses and diseases caused by bacteria, such as strep throat, whooping cough, and urinary tract infections (UTI). While many sinus and ear infections are caused by bacterial infections, they often tend to get better on their own.

This also means medical conditions with other, non-bacterial causes, cannot be cured with antibiotics. For instance, the common cold and the flu are both viruses, and cannot be effectively treated with antibiotics.

prescriptions for antibiotics

Why Do Antibiotics Require a Prescription?

Certain bacteria are only affected by specific types of antibiotics; this means that patients may need different types or amounts of antibiotics prescribed to them in order to address their specific health problems.

Because of this, antibiotics should only be used at the recommendation of a medical doctor or other certified practitioner; educated medical professionals know what to look for as they watch for side effects, and change the patient’s treatment if the patient has a negative reaction to a specific antibiotic, or if the medication does not seem to be as effective as was anticipated.

The Issue With Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic resistance is one of the most serious problems facing modern medicine. Unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions have started to lead to the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, rendering available antibiotics less useful and effective in fighting illnesses when they are really needed.

In 2018, it was reported that antibiotic resistance was responsible for at least 2 million people being infected by bacteria. These infections often lead to hospitalizations and, in some cases, to death. To help combat antibiotic resistance, those who are prescribed the medication should take them as directed in order to make sure the bacteria do not survive, potentially evolving into more antibiotic resistant strains.

what is antibiotic misuse

What Does Antibiotic Misuse Mean?

Aside from antibiotic resistance, taking antibiotics when they are not properly prescribed will fail to treat an illness, while additionally putting patients at risk of, potentially life- threatening, adverse side effects. Side effects of antibiotic misuse can range from serious allergic reactions, to the killing off of helpful bacteria. In some cases of antibiotic misuse, a secondary and entirely new infection can be created and begin to cause the body even further stress.

Additional side effects can include, but are not limited to:

  • Rashes
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

It is very important that patients only take antibiotics exactly as they are prescribed by a trained medical professional. Do not share them with others, as you may not be aware of potential medical allergies. Likewise, do not take medication that was prescribed to someone else. Lastly, do not save antibiotics for later use; be sure to complete the full antibiotic regimen that was prescribed to you.

Once it is clear that there are no further signs of infection, the antibiotic should be discontinued as directed by your physician.

What Is the Closest Thing to Antibiotics Over the Counter?

Under federal law, all intramuscular, intravenous, and oral antibiotics require a prescription from a health care provider. That said, there are topical antibiotics available over-the-counter for minor cuts, scrapes, and burns:

  • Bacitracin (Neosporin)
  • Benzoyl Peroxide (Polysporin)
  • Neomycin (Neosporin + Pain Relief)
  • Polymyxin (Proactiv)

It is still recommended to consult a doctor before trying an over-the-counter antibiotic.

Is There an Over the Counter Antibiotic Like Amoxicillin?

Amoxicillin is a type of penicillin, so if you need an alternative antibiotic, there are other options with a prescription. However, there are no over the counter alternatives to Amoxicillin.

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Village Emergency Centers and Antibiotics

So can I get antibiotics over the counter? Outside of topical antibiotics, all other types of antibiotics require a prescription. The good news is, if you are feeling like you may be dealing with a bacterial infection and need antibiotics quickly, your local emergency center is capable of prescribing the medicine you need.

Instead of making an appointment and waiting, you can stop by your nearest emergency center for immediate relief. The doctors there will be able to assess your medical conditions and decide if antibiotics are necessary for your treatment. If they are, your doctor will know which antibiotic to prescribe and how long the treatment will be necessary. 

If you experience any negative side effects caused by prescribed antibiotics, reach out for immediate medical assistance.