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Bacteria are a type of germ. While most types of bacteria are harmless, some can cause infections in humans, such as strep throat, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and cellulitis.

Antibiotics are a type of medication that’s used to treat a bacterial infection. These drugs work to kill the bacteria or to prevent them from growing effectively.

As with any prescription, it’s important to take an antibiotic as directed by your doctor. But what if you accidentally miss a dose? Keep reading to find out what to do.

If you’re prescribed a course of antibiotics, you may need to take them anywhere between one to four times per day. Specific information will be provided to you when you pick up your prescription.

Taking your antibiotics as scheduled is important. When you do this, it keeps the medication levels in your body constant so the antibiotics can work to effectively clear your bacterial infection.

A 2019 study retrospectively investigated late or missed doses of antibiotics in 200 hospitalized individuals. They found that missed doses of antibiotics were associated with a longer hospital stay.

So let’s discuss what to do in three different scenarios where you’ve missed a dose of antibiotics.

I forgot to take a dose

Generally speaking, if you miss a dose of your antibiotic, you can take the missed dose as soon as you remember.

Let’s look at an example. You need to take your antibiotic three times per day (every 8 hours) but have forgotten a dose. You remember this 2 to 3 hours later and take the missed dose.

I forgot to take a dose, but it’s almost time for my next dose

In this case, plan to skip your missed dose and take the next dose of your antibiotic as scheduled.

Let’s use the same example as above (a dose every 8 hours). However, in this case you remember a missed dose 7 hours later. Since there’s only 1 hour before your next dose, you skip the missed dose and take the next dose as scheduled.

I’ve missed several doses or an entire day’s worth of doses

In this situation, contact your doctor. They can advise you on how to move forward with your treatment.

Avoid doubling up

If you forget a dose of your antibiotic, don’t double up on your next dose. This can increase your risk for unpleasant side effects. Some examples of common antibiotic side effects include:

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Contact your doctor if you have any questions or concerns

It’s important to remember that you can always contact your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about a missed dose of antibiotics. They can help provide guidance on next steps.

Additionally, speak to your doctor if you’re taking antibiotics and:

  • have missed several doses in a row
  • have missed an entire day’s worth of doses
  • notice that your symptoms don’t get better or begin to get worse with treatment
  • develop side effects
  • experience an allergic reaction

The label on your prescription bottle can provide you with some helpful basic information about your antibiotic, including:

  • The name of the drug. This includes both brand names and generic names.
  • How often to take it. This tells you how many times per day you’ll need to take your antibiotic. It may also tell you the total length of time you’ll need to take it for.
  • How to take it. You’ll be instructed to take most antibiotics orally. Also be sure to note if the label tells you to take your antibiotic with or without food.
  • Warnings. The label will list any warnings, such as side effects or drug interactions, that you’ll need to be aware of while taking your antibiotic.
  • Drug description. Oral antibiotics are given as a pill, tablet, or capsule. Be sure that the drug description on the label matches what’s in the bottle.

Patient labeling

Further information about your antibiotic is also provided when you pick up your prescription. This can be attached to the prescription packaging or given as a separate handout.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) calls this information “patient labeling.” It’s provided by the drug manufacturer and approved by the FDA. There are a few different types:

  • Patient package insert (PPI). The PPI contains plain language information on your medication and how to use it safely. The PPI typically expands upon what you see on the bottle label.
  • Medication guide (MG). Like the PPI, an MG tells you how to use your medication safely. Not all medications come with an MG. They’re often provided when a medication may cause serious side effects.
  • Instructions for use (IFU). The IFU gives you additional information on how to take your medication properly. It’s often only provided if a medication has complicated dosing instructions.

The above information can help inform you about your antibiotic in general and may also include specific information about what to do when you miss a dose.

If you don’t receive information such as a PPI or MG with your prescription, you can ask your pharmacist for it. DailyMed and Drugs@FDA are two searchable resources that you can also use to get more information on your antibiotic.

It’s always important to finish your entire course of antibiotics, even if you begin to feel better. If you stop taking your antibiotics early, the bacteria causing your infection may not have been completely cleared, and your infection could return.

It’s also possible that these remaining bacteria could develop resistance to the antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance is a major public health concern. It happens when bacteria adapt to withstand one or more antibiotics.

Infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria are harder to treat and can last longer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year, 2.8 million people in the United States have an infection that’s caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

If you find that you have trouble remembering to take your antibiotics, you can try some of the following strategies to help yourself remember:

  • Link it to another activity. Associating taking your antibiotics with a daily activity can help you remember to take them. For example, you could pair an antibiotic that you take three times a day with mealtimes. Or, you could link an antibiotic that you take twice a day with brushing your teeth in the morning and before bed.
  • Set an alarm. Setting an alarm on your phone or watch can alert you to when you need to take another dose.
  • Use a pillbox. These are small containers that have labeled compartments into which you can organize your medications. There are many different types available. You can find them at a drugstore or online.
  • Keep it out. Keeping your antibiotic in a location where you can see it, such as on your dining room table or at your sink, may be helpful. Use caution with this if you have children or pets. In this case, medications need to be kept out of reach.
  • Make a note. After you take a dose of your antibiotic, make a note on a calendar or in a diary.

Read this article to learn about products and apps that can help you remember to take your medication.

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Taking your antibiotics as directed by your doctor is important for clearing your bacterial infection. This includes making sure to take all doses as scheduled.

If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember. However, if it’s almost time for your next dose, plan to skip the missed dose and take your next dose as scheduled. Never double up on a dose.

If you’d like more information about an antibiotic you’ve been prescribed, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. The information provided with your prescription, such as the bottle label or PPI, can also be informative.

Several strategies can help you remember to take your antibiotic. These include things like associating it with a daily activity or setting an alarm. Speak with your doctor for guidance if you miss several doses or a day’s worth of doses.