Can You Buy Antibiotics Online?
Antibiotics have become a backbone of modern medicine, providing patients with an easy, convenient, and effective treatment for a wide range of illnesses and infections caused by bacteria.
While antibiotics are readily available to the general public, some people still are not entirely sure how to go about obtaining the medication they need. Many turn to the source of seemingly everything: the internet. But can you buy antibiotics online? Yes, though reliability of sources depends on where you go.
Online clinics and health apps offer more options than ever, but it is important to understand your situation and medical condition to know what is best for you and your body. Learn more about how and when you can get antibiotics online.
What are Antibiotics?
Antibiotics describe a variety of different medicines that are designed to neutralize bacteria. Alexander Fleming, a Scottish physician, discovered the first antibiotic in 1928. Fleming found that a certain type of mold known as Penicillium notatum could effectively stop the growth and spread of Staphylococcus, a bacteria known for causing a wide range of infections.
He later found that the mold was effective in neutralizing other bacteria as well, including Streptococcus, Diphtheria bacillus, and Meningococcus. Thus the first antibiotic, which we know now as penicillin, was discovered.
The specific mechanisms differ based on the antibiotic you take, but most antibiotics work in one of three ways:
- Eliminating bacteria by weakening their cell walls until they burst
- Inhibiting the bacteria’s ability to make what it needs to grow and spread
- Interrupting the bacteria’s ability to repair any damage it sustains to its DNA
It’s important to understand that bacteria fall into two categories based on their cellular structure: gram-negative and gram-positive.
Gram-negative bacteria have double-layered cell walls, making them thicker and more difficult to penetrate. Gram-positive bacteria have single-layered cell walls that are easily permeable. For antibiotics to be effective, they generally need to be good at penetrating one or both types of cell walls.
Antibiotics are further divided into two groups, broad spectrum and narrow spectrum depending on their efficacy and sensitivity against different bacteria. Most antibiotics are broad spectrum, meaning they are effective against a wide range of both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria.
Broad spectrum antibiotics include:
Narrow spectrum antibiotics, which includes penicillin, are effective only against certain types of bacteria, either gram-positive or negative, not both.
Antibiotics act in different ways to fight bacteria. For instance, penicillin prevents bacteria from synthesizing peptidoglycan, a molecule in the cell walls that allows the bacteria to survive the environment of the human body.
Quinolones use hydroxyl radicals to kill bacteria. Hydroxyl radicals are molecules designed to destroy proteins and lipids in a bacteria’s cell walls while simultaneously damaging DNA, which prevents cell replication.
Sulfonamides are a type of antibiotic that target the metabolic pathway of bacteria by binding to dihydropteroate synthase. This inhibits the production of dihydrofolic acid, preventing the cell from metabolizing folate. Without folate, bacteria cells can’t grow or multiply.
What are Antibiotics Used for?
It’s important to note that antibiotics can only be used for bacterial infections. They cannot be used to treat infections caused by viruses.
Viruses are smaller than bacteria and can only live and multiply in living hosts, including humans, plants, and animals. Viruses operate by entering your body and recoding the processes of certain cells so that they only produce more of the virus. Common diseases caused by viruses include the common cold, chickenpox, AIDS, and the stomach flu.
Bacteria are larger and can thrive in a wide range of environments, in or out of the human body. Some can even withstand extreme cold and hot temperatures. Most bacteria are harmless, and some are even necessary to your health. For instance, bacteria in your stomach and intestines are necessary for helping you digest food.
Antibiotics can otherwise be used to treat various bacterial infections and diseases, including:
- Ear and sinus infections
- Dental infections
- Whooping cough
- Urinary tract infections
- Strep throat
- Certain sexually transmitted diseases (chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis)
What gets confusing is that certain diseases can be caused by either bacteria or a virus which is where a proper diagnosis becomes necessary. Some of these common conditions inlcude:
Common Side Effects of Antibiotics
Antibiotics are designed to neutralize bacteria, but that sometimes means killing the good bacteria in your body as well. This is often why people taking antibiotics will sometimes suffer from side effects, usually involving their digestive system, such as:
Some people may also suffer from thrush, which is a fungal infection that affects the mouth and digestive tract and is apparent by characteristic white or creamy patches.
Women taking antibiotics may also suffer from vaginal yeast infections, which can cause:
- Pain, and general discomfort in and around the genitals.
Some antibiotics can also affect birth control effectiveness. Make sure to tell your doctor if you’re on birth control pills.
Generally, the benefits of antibiotics far outweigh the risks, and most common side effects of antibiotics should subside on their own. However, some people are allergic to certain antibiotics and should talk to their doctor about potential alternatives.
Can You Get Antibiotics Online?
You can, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should, especially if you do not have a prescription. Often, when people get sick, they will self-diagnose and immediately turn to antibiotics. You may be turning to antibiotics even though your infection is viral or fungal. Aside from having no effect on your actual illness, taking antibiotics when you do not need them could do more harm than good, especially if you are a child.
Worse yet, taking antibiotics when you do not need them can lead to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These bacteria get a resistance gene embedded into their DNA, rendering them useless against other antibiotics. You will require more powerful antibiotics that may have more severe side effects.
Even if you have a diagnosis, you should get your antibiotics from a pharmacist. Online pharmacies can easily be fake or a scam, meaning that you won’t even know what you are getting in your medication. At best, you will get antibiotics that don’t offer the dose that you need, which may only contribute to antibiotic resistance without making you feel better. At worst, researchers have found online pharmacies selling medication that contains everything from simple salt and sugar to heavy metals and more dangerous ingredients.
Even if the fake antibiotics you get from an online pharmacy have no direct effect on your health, you are not getting the treatment you need. While many bacterial infections may go away on their own, more serious infections could lead to severe symptoms and potentially death. A pathogenic bacteria infection can lead to pneumonia, inflammation in the brain, or coronary heart disease.
How to Get Antibiotics Online the Right Way
Thankfully, getting antibiotics the right way is easy. It starts with seeing a doctor through your phone. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, ask about your personal health history, and perform a physical exam with signs and symptoms that can easily be seen online. That alone can be enough for your doctor to know what is ailing you and provide an accurate diagnosis and prescription. Most diagnoses are made by asking the right questions and do not require you and your doctor to be in the same room.
Sometimes, your doctor may require more information to give a diagnosis. They may refer you for a lab test, which is often as easy as performing a cheek swab or drawing some blood. This sample is sent to a lab where doctors can identify the bacteria that may be causing your illness. Your results are sent back to the doctor who can then determine the best antibiotic to neutralize the bacteria and eliminate the infection.
With PlushCare, you can speak to a real doctor and receive an accurate diagnosis and prescription treatment, including antibiotics. PlushCare doctors can write prescriptions that can be sent to you or a registered pharmacy in your area, allowing for easy pick-up at your convenience.
How to Take Antibiotics
Once you get your antibiotics, make sure you take them properly. Most antibiotics come in the form of pills or capsules to be taken orally, but some can be injected or applied topically to your body. Follow the instructions as provided by your doctor.
Most antibiotics take effect within the first few hours of administering. You should notice your symptoms getting better within the first 24 hours. However, if you do not feel better or otherwise experience no changes within the first few days, consult your doctor. You may require a different medication or you may have been misdiagnosed.
Do not take too much of your antibiotic. Increasing the dosage only increases the chances of creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria and may just make you feel worse. Stick to the dosage and regimen your doctor prescribed for you.
Make sure you complete the full course of the antibiotic as prescribed by your doctor, regardless of how you feel. Antibiotics can be surprisingly effective, so you may feel great even though there are still lingering bacteria in your system. Taking the full course ensures that you completely eliminate the bacteria in your system. If you stop sooner, the remaining bacteria may just grow and spread through your system again. This re-infection can cause even more severe symptoms , and the new bacteria may have a greater resistance to antibiotics.
Some antibiotics should be taken with a meal, while others should be taken on an empty stomach, usually an hour before meals or two hours after meals. You may need to avoid certain foods and beverages depending on the antibiotic. For example, you should avoid consuming any dairy products while taking tetracycline as they have been found to affect the absorption of the medicine. You should also generally avoid drinking alcohol when taking antibiotics as well.
Most importantly, you should not keep any unused antibiotics. Return them to a pharmacy for disposal. Avoid sharing your antibiotics with others. They may be suffering from a different infection that may not respond to your antibiotic.
If you need antibiotics, book an appointment with PlushCare and talk to a doctor from the comfort of your home today.
PlushCare takes content accuracy seriously so we can be your trusted source of medical information. Most articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.D.s, NPs, or NDs. Click here to meet the healthcare professionals behind the blog.
Read more of our antibiotics series:
- How Do Antibiotics Work?
- Common Side Effects of Antibiotics
- Amoxicillin: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and More