Antibiotics for Skin Conditions: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Antibiotics are medicines that kill bacteria. Bacteria can cause some skin problems or conditions, such as impetigo. They can also lead to problems like acne. There are many types of antibiotics. Each works a little differently and acts on different types of bacteria. Your doctor will decide which medicine will work best for you.

You can put an antibiotic ointment or cream on your skin. Or you can take pills by mouth to kill bacteria in your skin pores.

Antibiotics are not used to treat skin problems that are caused by viruses or allergies. But sometimes bacteria get into a skin problem you already have. Then you may need this medicine.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

To take antibiotics

  • If your doctor prescribed pills, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because your skin problem gets better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Apply antibiotic ointment exactly as instructed.
  • Read the label to learn how to store your medicine.
  • Do not use antibiotics that were prescribed for a different illness or for someone else. You may take longer to heal. And your skin problem may get worse.

To take care of your skin

  • Try not to scratch rashes or sores. Scratching may spread bacteria to other parts of your skin or body.
  • Clean your skin with mild soap and water 2 times a day unless your doctor gives you different instructions. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
  • Protect your skin from the sun. Wear hats with wide brims, sunglasses, and loose-fitting, tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs. Make sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Apply it several times a day.

What are the possible side effects?

Many people do not have side effects from antibiotics. But sometimes people have problems, such as:

  • Nausea, diarrhea, and belly pain.
  • Allergic reactions, such as a skin rash.
  • Vaginal yeast infections.

If the side effects bother you, ask your doctor if there is another antibiotic that will work as well but will not cause these effects.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of an infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, and redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the affected area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You think you may be having a problem with the medicine.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.