Doctors prescribe medications to treat many kinds of conditions, but sometimes the medications can be a problem themselves. Indeed, by some estimates, nearly 70% of drugs approved by the FDA have 10 or more known side effects that are associated with their use. Not every patient will experience all of these side effects, but it is wise to keep them in mind when and if you get a prescription. One common example of a medication that has noteworthy side effects is amoxicillin.
What is Amoxicillin?
Also known simply as amoxil, amoxicillin is a type of penicillin antibiotic that can be prescribed for a wide variety of reasons. Antibiotics are antimicrobial agents that are primarily used to treat and prevent bacterial infections. Depending on the kind of antibiotic, it can work by either eliminating the harmful bacteria directly or inhibiting their growth. In the case of amoxicillin, the drug attaches itself to the cell walls of vulnerable bacteria and actually kills them. Unfortunately, amoxicillin has no effect on viral infections.
The nature of this medication requires that each dose of amoxicillin be taken as prescribed since a missed dose could mean a substantial reduction in effectiveness. Like most other antibiotics, it is meant to be taken by mouth, usually in immediate release or extended release amoxicillin capsules, or chewable tablets. It is also available as an oral suspension; this can be especially useful for younger children who require antibiotics yet are uncomfortable with swallowing a pill.
What is Amoxicillin Used to Treat?
Not all antibiotics can be used for every bacterial infection, however. Different types have been developed to treat certain kinds or families of bacteria. Amoxicillin is effective against numerous strains, including streptococci, pneumococci, H. pylori, and Chlamydia. Infections by these and other bacteria are responsible for various medical conditions:
- pneumonia: an inflammation of the lungs that affects the alveoli, small air sacs located throughout the lungs
- bronchitis: inflammation from respiratory tract infections that affect larger air passages called bronchi
- stomach ulcers: one of several symptoms of an H. pylori infection
- Lyme disease: an infection of the Borrelia bacterium that is carried by certain ticks
- tonsillitis: an inflammation of the tonsils, lymphoid organs at the back of the throat that play a role in the immune system
- ear infection: typically an infection of the middle ear that is quite common amongst children
- acne: it is thought that a bacterial infection Cutibacterium acnes is one of several contributing factors to acne
Side Effects of Amoxicillin
Amoxicillin is a very efficient treatment for many kinds of bacterial infection; it begins attacking harmful bacteria very quickly after being consumed, and the symptoms of those infections often begin to diminish after just a couple days. But as helpful as amoxicillin can be, there are some well-documented adverse effects that can occur. Below are some of the most common side effects of amoxicillin:
- nausea and vomiting
- skin rashes
- abnormal taste sensations
Most people who experience some kind of side effect from amoxicillin have a mild version of one of the above symptoms that goes away on its own. Though somewhat rare, there are other, less common side effects:
- vaginal yeast infection
- trouble breathing
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- sensitivity to lights and sounds
- skin blistering or peeling
- trouble sleeping
- stomach pain or abdominal pain
A significant portion of side effects are related to the gastrointestinal system and the way amoxicillin is digested, but these less common side effects can be a sign of an amoxicillin allergy. In addition to hives, swelling, and other serious allergic reactions, these symptoms can develop rapidly and be quite intense. For those who are especially susceptible to a severe allergic reaction, amoxicillin can even cause serious side effects like anaphylaxis and possibly death.
Drug Interactions With Amoxicillin
Apart from side effects, another concern associated with amoxicillin is the way it can potentially interact with other medications and supplements. This concern is the reason your doctor asks about other medications you may be taking when you go in for a visit. It’s important to be transparent about all of this information so your doctor can prescribe the correct medication and help you avoid adverse effects. Some of these interactions are intentional and can make a more effective treatment, and some can cause a problem:
- Probenecid: This medication used to treat gout and hyperuricemia is often paired with amoxicillin to counter the kidneys’ tendency to filter some antibiotics and thereby improve the antibiotics’ effectiveness.
- Allopurinol: This medication is also used to treat gout, but, in some patients, the interaction with amoxicillin can cause a skin rash.
- Macrolides: Macrolides like azithromycin or clarithromycin are a class of antibiotics that can actually reduce the amount of amoxicillin available in the bloodstream.
- Tetracyclines: Doxycycline and tetracycline are part of a family of antibiotics that reduce the effectiveness of amoxicillin when taken together.
- Lansoprazole: This is often used with amoxicillin and clarithromycin to treat the development of ulcers that can result from a H. pylori infection.
- Birth Control Pills: Amoxicillin can potentially reduce the effectiveness of some oral contraceptives.
One of the best healthcare practices you can have is to have annual checkups with a doctor and keep them updated on any current medications. Doing so will make adverse drug interactions and side effects less likely. Nevertheless, be attentive to any side effects you experience when you first start taking amoxicillin or any other antibiotics. Because of the potential impact on the colon’s microbiome, many common side effects are temporary and mild bowel changes.
If you begin to experience serious side effects, that are clearly more than just a minor nuisance, they could be signs of an allergic reaction to amoxicillin. If you have trouble breathing or swelling of the throat or tongue, contact a poison control center or urgent care facility for medical help right away. Below are some other areas of concern:
- Mononucleosis: If you have mono, taking amoxicillin can increase the likelihood of developing a bad skin rash.
- Diabetes: Taking amoxicillin can cause problems with urine-based glucose tests.
- Kidney Disease: In people with kidney disease, the kidneys may not be able to filter excess amoxicillin efficiently; this can lead to an unhealthy buildup of amoxicillin in the body.
- Breastfeeding: Since it is possible to pass amoxicillin to the baby through breast milk, you should talk to your doctor about whether to start a prescription.
Since there isn’t an over-the-counter version of amoxicillin, you won’t be able to get it without a prescription from a health care provider. If you think you might be allergic to amoxicillin, contact the doctor who prescribed it or visit one of our many walk-in urgent care locations. At TrustCare, we are passionate about providing excellent healthcare and medical advice quickly and compassionately. Contact us for more information or find a location closest to you.