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From aminoglycosides to tetracyclines, antibiotics are a group of medications that are used to treat a wide variety of infections caused by bacteria. Although very effective in the treatment of bacterial infections, antibiotics won’t work effectively on infections caused by viruses, such as the common cold, influenza (flu), hepatitis or HIV.
Generally, you develop symptoms of a bacterial infection, go to the doctor, and leave the office with a prescription of antibiotics in hand. You self-administer the medication for approximately 10 to 14 days and voila; your infection is cured and the empty bottle goes into the trash.
When antibiotics are prescribed prophylactically, this means they are to be taken on a daily basis to prevent a bacterial infection that hasn’t happened yet. In COPD, this practice is typically reserved for patients who are at high-risk for frequent flare-ups, or COPD exacerbations.
The use of prophylactic antibiotics in COPD has been studied extensively and conflicting evidence abounds. Older studies found that continuous antibiotics had no effect on the frequency of exacerbations in COPD.1 In contrast, newer studies show that prophylactic use of macrolide antibiotics (azithromycin, erythromycin, clarithromycin) significantly reduces the number and frequency of exacerbations and improves quality of life in COPD.2 At this time, because the evidence is unclear and there are great concerns over antibiotic resistance, the prophylactic use of antibiotics in the treatment of COPD is not indicated, other than for treating lung infections associated with COPD exacerbation and other types of bacterial infections.3
If you’re currently taking antibiotics for a bacterial infection:
Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN