Antibiotics are frequently used to treat bacterial infections. But is getting over-the-counter antibiotics a possibility? That is a pressing question indeed.
Additionally, antibiotics are some of the most potent and quickest remedies against harmful bacteria. However, antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat UTIs, URTIs, ear infections, stomach infections, and STDs.
Mostly topical antibiotics are available over the counter. However, most oral antibiotics require a doctor’s prescription. This article will discuss over-the-counter antibiotics and those that require a prescription.
Can You Get Antibiotics Over the Counter?
There are options for antibiotics that you can buy over the counter. These include topical antibiotics such as antibiotics ointment over the counter. These can also be found at a pharmacy or a local store. Although, oral antibiotics do require a prescription from a doctor.
Antibiotics can be administered through different routes in and on the body. Consequently, why they are classified as less invasive methods and the course depends on the condition or type of infection.
The four main routes to administer antibiotics include:
- Intramuscular (IM)
- Intravenous (IV)
Is there an antibiotic you can get over the counter?
Yes, there are topical antibiotics that you can get over the counter. These antibiotics include such as Polysporin, Neosporin, etc. You can also find these at any local drugstore or pharmacy.
Topical over-the-counter antibiotics
The topical route comes under the less invasive way. Many topical creams or ointments are available over-the-counter medicine for bacterial infection. Therefore, these topical antibiotics are applied to the skin to treat minor wounds, scrapes, cuts, burns, and acne. The most common topical antibiotics available over the counter include:
- Polysporin (bacitracin/polymyxin B)
- Neosporin (bacitracin/neomycin/polymyxin B)
- Proactiv/Clearskin (Benzoyl peroxide)
While some generic brands of topical antibiotics have been formulated into a cream or ointment, these can be directly applied to the skin and are referred to as otc antibiotics for skin infections.
More potent topical antibiotics require a doctor’s prescription. For example, over-the-counter mupirocin ointment and metronidazole cream are unavailable and require a prescription. However, these are used to manage severe infections, typically those not responding to over-the-counter topical antibiotics.
Oral, intravenous, and intramuscular antibiotics require a prescription and are unavailable over the counter. They are commonly prescribed to treat bacterial infections and are taken by mouth.
Oral antibiotics available over the counter
In Canada and the United States, oral antibiotics are typically unavailable over the counter (OTC). Also, antibiotics are prescription medications that require a healthcare professional (doctor or nurse) to assess your medical condition and determine the appropriate treatment.
In Canada, antibiotics are regulated by Health Canada, and a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider is generally required to obtain them. Similarly, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates antibiotics in the United States, typically available only with a prescription.
It’s important to remember that antibiotic misuse or inappropriate use can lead to antibiotic resistance and other health complications.
Types of Antibiotics
Several types of antibiotics are available to treat different bacterial infections. Moreover, the treatment depends on the type of bacterial infection and the severity of the illness. The drugs are classified as follows:
These antibiotics interfere with bacterial cell wall formation, essential for bacterial growth and survival. Moreover, cephalosporins weaken the cell wall, leading to cell lysis and the death of the bacteria by inhibiting specific enzymes involved in cell wall synthesis. This group of antibiotics helps treat various illnesses, such as skin infections, urinary tract infections, respiratory tract infections, and some types of meningitis.
Macrolides work by preventing the synthesis of bacterial proteins. They accomplish this by attaching to the bacterial ribosomes, which are in charge of making proteins. The ribosomes bind to macrolides and prevent adding additional amino acids to the expanding protein chain, effectively stopping protein synthesis. Macrolides treat respiratory tract infections, skin, and soft tissue infections, sexually transmitted infections, and atypical pneumonia.
Penicillins work by inhibiting the formation of the bacterial cell wall. So they do this by interfering with the enzymes responsible for cross-linking the building blocks of the cell wall, weakening its structure. The bacteria are susceptible to damage and lysis without a strong cell wall. Hence, penicillins are broad-spectrum antibiotics that help treat bacterial infections, including respiratory system infections, skin and soft tissues, the urinary tract, and several sexually transmitted diseases.
Fluoroquinolones act by inhibiting the bacterial enzymes called topoisomerases, which function in DNA replication and repair. Therefore, by interfering with these enzymes, fluoroquinolones prevent the bacteria from effectively replicating their DNA and dividing. This ultimately leads to the inhibition of bacterial growth and eradication of the infection. Doctors prescribe fluoroquinolones to treat respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal infections, and certain skin infections.
This class of antibiotics works by inhibiting the production of folic acid, a crucial nutrient for bacterial growth and replication. Sulfonamides block the enzymes involved in the folic acid synthesis, thereby hindering the production of DNA and proteins in the bacteria. As a result, the infection is under control and stunts bacterial growth. Doctors prescribe sulfonamides to patients to treat various skin diseases, lung infections, and urinary tract infections.
A class of antibiotics known as tetracyclines connect to bacterial ribosomes and stop the creation of proteins by bacteria. As a result, protein synthesis is impeded since no new amino acids can be added to the expanding protein chain. As a result, tetracyclines hinder bacterial growth and replication. They are commonly prescribed for respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted infections, acne, and skin infections caused by susceptible bacteria.
What conditions are antibiotics used for?
Some common illnesses or infections that antibiotics can treat include:
- Upper respiratory tract infection
- Strep throat
- Sinus infections
- Otitis media
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
- Dental infections and gum disease
- Skin or soft tissue infections such as cellulitis
- Bladder and kidney infections
- Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
- Bacterial vaginosis
Sharing or taking antibiotics prescribed to someone else for a similar or different condition is not the best decision. Similarly, you cannot use the same antibiotics each time as they may not be the proper medication for the infection.
Do I need a prescription for antibiotics?
Antibiotics, or antibacterials, are potent medications that destroy bacteria or halt their growth. Many topical over-the-counter medicines for infection treat minor cuts, scrapes, and burns. Also, these medicines don’t require a prescription. Although for more potent topical or oral antibiotics, a prescription from a doctor is necessary. Despite the contrary belief, oral antibiotics do require a prescription. There aren’t any over-the-counter antibiotics for strep throat, otc antibiotics for tooth infection, or over-the-counter antibiotics for covid.
Your doctor will enquire about your symptoms and medical history and may order additional tests to determine the best antibiotics to help treat your condition.
What are the most commonly prescribed antibiotics?
There are numerous types of antibiotics. Your doctor will prescribe the best suited to treat the infection. Some commonly prescribed antibiotics include:
All antibiotics have specific benefits and side effects. Antibiotics are notorious for causing gut microbiome imbalance, resulting in gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea. Additionally, they can interact with other medications. Therefore, a prescription is essential due to the complexity of oral antibiotics use.
What is the most potent antibiotic for bacterial infection?
Different antibiotics are effective against various bacteria. That is why, for specific targeted treatment, it is vital to consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and the most appropriate treatment.
Although certain antibiotics are preferred over others, they are effective against multiple bacteria and can treat many ailments. Usually, antibiotics target a particular type of bacteria and, as a result, cannot treat all bacterial infections interchangeably.
Some oral antibiotics commonly prescribed include:
Doctors prescribe this antibacterial drug alongside other medications to treat an infection, as this comes under penicillin medicine. Unfortunately, Amoxicillin over the counter is not available.
Doctors prescribe ceftriaxone for severe bacterial infections, namely pneumonia or meningitis. Doctors also administer this antibiotic before surgery to help prevent infections.
This antibiotic comes under the class of drugs called fluoroquinolones. Doctors prescribe it to treat bacterial infections, including bronchitis and respiratory tract infections. However, doctors don’t commonly recommend it e to its widely experienced side effects, such as headaches, numbness,
This antibiotic halts bacterial growth. Doctors usually prescribe it to treat severe or rare infections.
This antibiotic belongs to the class of cephalosporins, and doctors recommend it for adults and children. Doctors prescribe cephalexin to treat UTIs, ear infections, and bone infections.
Doxycycline treats many conditions, such as acne, chlamydia, Lyme disease, bacterial pneumonia, and syphilis.
This antibiotic may also have anti-inflammatory properties, so doctors prescribe it to treat or prevent a dermatological infection.
This antibiotic treats digestive infections, vaginal bacterial infections, and STDs. Flagyl is a well-known brand name for metronidazole.
Why Do You Need a Prescription For Oral Antibiotics?
- To prevent misuse of antibiotics: Taking oral antibiotics when not required can cause more harm than good. It causes the bacteria to mutate and develop antibiotic resistance. Hence, it is best to let your doctor assess your condition and decide the most appropriate antibiotic.
- Antibiotics treat different bacterial infections: Different types of antibiotics target other bacteria. There are specific antibiotics for specific ailments; therefore, you must see a doctor for a prescription.
- Antibiotics have side effects and interactions: You require physician evaluation to prevent unnecessary drug interactions. This helps ensure you are not taking an antibiotic that can be dangerous. Moreover, it will help avoid side effects as you will be monitored throughout treatment.
Unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions have given rise to an antibiotic resistance problem. Additionally, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are thriving and are no longer susceptible to common antibiotics. Therefore, antibiotic resistance can increase the incidence of hospitalizations and may result in death. Taking the medication as directed is advisable reduce the chances of developing antibiotic resistance; this will help eradicate the bacteria instead of producing antibiotic-resistant strains.
Misuse of Antibiotics
Taking antibiotics when they have not been prescribed to you or using some other antibiotics to treat every condition classifies as misuse. It nails to treat the underlying infection and increases the chances of patients developing potentially life-threatening side effects. Meanwhile, side effects of antibiotic misuse can include rashes, nausea, diarrhoea, or severe allergic reaction. Rarely, some cases of antibiotic abuse may result in an entirely new infection that can contribute to additional stress on the body.
It is essential to take antibiotics as prescribed by your physician. In addition, please do not share your medication with them with others, as every person may not respond similarly and may have medical allergies that you are unaware of. Again, do not consume medication that was prescribed to someone else. Lastly, do not save pills for later use. Take medicine for the given duration only.
Once the infection clears completely, the antibiotic can be discontinued as directed by your physician.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Frequent use of antibiotics can get rid of good bacteria in your gut and result in diarrhea or vomiting. In addition, some individuals can develop an allergic reaction to a particular drug. If you think an antibiotic is not working for your body or giving you severe side effects, seek medical attention immediately.
Some symptoms that warrant an immediate check-up include:
- Feeling light-headed
- Breathing difficulty or wheezing
- Fast heart rate
- Clammy skin
- Feeling faint or loss of consciousness
How to get antibiotics without seeing a doctor?
Topical antibiotics may be available over the counter. Still, when looking for oral antibiotics, such as Amoxicillin, azithromycin, doxycycline, or many others, you have various options without seeing a doctor. You can also get antibiotics without seeing a doctor by consulting our doctor at Your Doctors Online, who can prescribe the best antibiotics according to your condition. During an online consultation, our doctor will take a detailed history to diagnose your infection and determine the best treatment. We will deliver your prescription to the pharmacy of your choice if the doctor recommends antibiotics.
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Be Antibiotics Aware: Smart Use, Best Care
- NHS. Why can’t I get a prescription for an over-the-counter medicine?
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- Grigoryan L, Germanos G, Zoorob R, Juneja S, Raphael JL, Paasche-Orlow MK, Trautner BW. Use of Antibiotics Without a Prescription in the U.S. Population: A Scoping Review. Ann Intern Med. 2019 Aug 20;171(4):257-263. doi: 10.7326/M19-0505. Epub 2019 Jul 23. PMID: 31330541.
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