Bacteria are single cell microbes. Their cell structure has a well-sealed wall. These microbes can live in multiple types of environment and can withstand extreme types of climatic conditions. A majority of bacteria do not cause harm. It is only a very small share which causes infections and related medical conditions. Drugs taken to fight these bacterial infections are called antibiotics or anti-bacterial medicines. Azithromycin is one such drug. It is important to know the side effects this medicine can trigger.

Antibiotics are an important family of drugs known to mankind. As bacteria are extremely resilient and can adapt to different conditions, excessive dosages of antibiotics can make the germs develop resistance. Of the multiple types of antibiotics used in the treatment of infections caused by bacteria, macrolide antibiotics are very popular. This genre of medicines is known to have a wide range of antibacterial properties with a steep safety margin (i.e., good therapeutic capabilities). These drugs are also effective when taken through the oral route.

Azithromycin – How does it work?

Azithromycin is an antibacterial drug belonging to a class of medicines known as macrolide antibiotics. Its chief function is to inhibit the multiplication and stop further spread of bacteria. If you use it inappropriately or excessively, therapeutic properties of this drug may diminish considerably. You need to remember that azithromycin is not effective against viral infections. Azithromycin is used for a wide range of bacterial attacks including sexually transmitted infections (STIs), infections in the ears, eyes or on the skin. It is also found to be effective in the treatment of infections in the lungs or other breathing difficulties triggered by bacterial attacks.

You can enhance the efficacy of this drug by (1) consuming it at the same time each day and (2) taking it in well-spaced time intervals. Your doctor may advice to take this drug without or with food. However, if you are experiencing indigestion or stomach problems (such as an abdominal upset), it is a good practice to consume it along with food.

It is very important to carefully follow the medication plan prescribed to you. If you intend stopping it without the consent of your treating doctor, it can lead to harmful outcomes. Deciding to stop taking this drug during the middle of your treatment plan can lead to a regrowth of bacteria. In such instances of regrowth (or re-emergence of the symptoms of a bacterial attack), you need to talk to your doctor without any delay. Owing to such re-emergence risks, it is considered a good practice to continue taking the drug even after the symptoms have ceased to show up.

Precautions needed prior to taking azithromycin

Drugs – especially, antacids made with magnesium or aluminium – may reduce the absorption rate of azithromycin. This rate is reduced to a very low level if azithromycin is taken together with such antacids. Your treating doctor may advice you to space the intake of antacids over a minimum timespan of 3 hours – i.e., after or prior to consumption of azithromycin.

If you have any known allergies to antibiotics such as clarithromycin, erythromycin, etc., you need to inform your treating doctor about such hypersensitivities. Also, if you have a few medical conditions such as renal disorders, muscular problems, hepatic dysfunction, etc. you need to inform about them to your doctor. Azithromycin can – at times – influence the rhythm of your heart. A prolonged QT cycle may lead to arrhythmia as well as a quicker pulse rate. So, if you experience excessive drowsiness or if you are passing out, you need to take medical help on an emergency basis. In general, your doctor needs to know if you have cardiac conditions such as heart arrests, slow beating of heart, etc., or if your family history has conditions like myocardial infarction.

Macrolide antibiotics like azithromycin can partly incapacitate or reduce the powers of a few vaccines administered to treat bacterial attacks such as typhoid. So, it is advised not to take a shot of vaccine or other methods of immunization if you are taking azithromycin.

Intake of azithromycin along with water pills or diuretics can enhance the risks of arrhythmia. This is because of the capability of diuretic drugs to reduce the levels of magnesium and potassium in your body. So, you may need to consult a qualified medical practitioner if you are taking diuretics along with antibiotics like azithromycin. If you are aged 60 years or more, you may be more vulnerable to cardiac risks. So, it becomes more important to check with the doctor for elderly patients.

Above all, this drug may interact with medications that you may already be taking. So, if you are taking any medicines or if you are pursuing any treatment plans, tell about them to your treating doctor. Your doctor may advise you about the likelihood of interactions with quinidine, hydroxychloroquine, amiodarone, etc. In order to know the complete list of drugs which pose possible risks of interactions with azithromycin, talk to your pharmacist.

Side effects of azithromycin

The most common side effects of azithromycin are loosening of stool or diarrhea as well as a few abdominal discomforts such as nausea and pain. You may also experience pain in your stomach and vomiting. A few people may experience side effects such as fever, inflammation, dryness of skin, development of scales, itchiness, discoloration or blisters. Very rarely experienced side effects are pain while urinating, excessive dizziness, headache, reduction of appetite, increased episodes of sweating and excessive weariness.

In general, never take opioid medicines or diarrhea-stopping drugs if you observe side effects like cramping of abdominal muscles, mucus or blood in stools or non-stop diarrhea. This drug may trigger some intestinal disorders. These internal conditions may show up when a few strands of bacteria put up a fight and resist the action of this drug. It is often an unpredictable development; it is hence very difficult to tell when it may show up. In some rare cases, it has shown up during the course of a medication plan. In other very remote instances, it has occurred several weeks after you have stopped taking antibacterial medications like azithromycin.

Prolonged consumption of azithromycin can lead to turning the germs relatively more resistant to this drug’s actions. Also, you may run the risk of developing fungal infections (yeast) or conditions like thrush upon repeated or prolonged usage of azithromycin. These conditions may show up as changes seen in the discharges from your vagina or development of white colored patches and spots inside your mouth.

You also need to remember that most of the people who take azithromycin do not develop any major reactions or side effects. However, if you notice a reduced sense of hearing (or turning partially deaf), blurring of eyesight and symptoms of hepatic disorders (these can show up as pain in your abdomen, discoloration of skin or eyes, darkened output of urine, etc.), you need to seek medical attention at the earliest possible time.

Acute reactions or side effects of this drug are however extremely rare. You need to call 911 or seek medical help on an emergency basis if you experience inflammation of lymph nodes, development of rashes on skin, breathing problems, acute spell of drowsiness or dizziness, swelling of oral parts such as throat, tongue, etc.

Some people have reported a few allergies – itchiness or discoloration of skin – long after they have stopped using azithromycin. In such instances, make a note of the timelines – i.e., of your last dosage as well as the time by when you developed these allergies. It is highly recommended to talk to your doctor immediately upon spotting these allergic reactions. If you are in the US, you need to call 911 or reach the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If you are a Canadian resident, you can either call a poison control center near your home or you can reach out to Health Canada to seek needful care.

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