Azithromycin: antibiotic to treat bacterial infections
It's widely used to treat chest infections such as pneumonia, infections of the nose and throat such as sinus infection (sinusitis), skin infections, Lyme disease, and some sexually transmitted infections.
Azithromycin is used in children, often to treat ear infections or chest infections.
It can also be used long-term to prevent chest infections in people who keep getting them.
The medicine is available on prescription as capsules, tablets, and a liquid that you drink. It can also be given by injection, but this is usually only done in the hospital.
Azithromycin is usually taken once a day. Try to take it at the same time each day.
If your doctor has prescribed azithromycin capsules, you should take them at least 1 hour before food or 2 hours after eating. If you have tablets or liquid, you can take them with or without food.
For most infections, you should feel better within a few days, but you should still finish your full course of medicine.
The most common side effects of azithromycin are feeling or being sick, diarrhea, headaches, or changes to your sense of taste.
Azithromycin is also called by the brand name Zithromax.
Who can and cannot take azithromycin
Azithromycin can be taken by adults and children.
It isn't suitable for some people. To make sure azithromycin is safe for you, tell your doctor if you have:
had an allergic reaction to azithromycin or any other medicines in the past
liver or kidney problems
heart problems, including irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia)
had diarrhea when you have taken antibiotics before
myasthenia gravis - azithromycin can worsen the symptoms of this muscle-weakening illness
diabetes - azithromycin liquid contains sugar
How and when to take it
Azithromycin is usually taken once a day unless you're having it by injection. Try to take your medicine at the same time each day.
The usual dose is 500mg a day for 3 to 10 days depending on the infection being treated.
For some infections, you'll be given a one-off higher dose of 1g or 2g.
The dose may be lower for children or if you have liver or kidney problems.
Azithromycin is sometimes prescribed long-term to prevent chest infections if you keep getting them. In this case, it's usually taken 3 times a week, often on a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Carry on taking this medicine until the course is completed, even if you feel better. If you stop your treatment early, your infection could come back.
How to take it
If your doctor has prescribed azithromycin capsules, you should take them at least 1 hour before food or 2 hours after eating.
If you have tablets or liquid, you can take them with or without food.
Swallow tablets and capsules whole with a glass of water.
Azithromycin liquid is available for children and people who find it difficult to swallow tablets.
If you or your child are taking azithromycin as a liquid, it'll usually be made up for you by your pharmacist. The medicine will come with a syringe or spoon to help you measure the right amount. If you don't have one, ask your pharmacist for one. Do not use a kitchen teaspoon as it will not give the right amount.
The liquid can have a bitter aftertaste, so it can be a good idea to offer children a drink of fruit juice afterward.
What if I forget to take it?
If you forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember unless it's nearly time for your next one. In this case, just leave out the missed dose and take your next dose as normal.
Never take 2 doses at the same time. Never take an extra dose to make up for a forgotten one.
If you often forget doses, it may help to set an alarm to remind you. You could also ask your pharmacist for other ways to remember your medicine.
What if I take too much?
Taking an extra dose of azithromycin by accident is unlikely to harm you or your child. It may, however, increase the chance of temporary side effects, such as feeling or being sick or diarrhea.
Talk to your pharmacist or doctor if you're worried, or if you or your child accidentally take more than 1 extra dose.
Like all medicines, azithromycin can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them.
Common side effects
These common side effects of azithromycin happen in more than 1 in 100 people. Keep taking the medicine, but talk to your doctor or pharmacist if these side effects bother you or don't go away:
feeling sick (nausea)
diarrhea or being sick (vomiting)
losing your appetite
feeling dizzy or tired
changes to your sense of taste
Serious side effects
Serious side effects are rare and happen in less than 1 in 1,000 people.
Call a doctor straight away if you get:
chest pains or a faster or irregular heartbeat
yellow skin or the whites of your eyes turn yellow, or pale poo with dark pee - these can be signs of liver or gallbladder problems
ringing in your ears (tinnitus), temporary hearing loss, or you feel unsteady on your feet (vertigo)
severe pain in your stomach or back - these can be warning signs of inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
diarrhea (perhaps with muscle cramps) that contains blood or mucus - if you have severe diarrhea without blood or mucus for more than 4 days you should also speak to a doctor
Serious allergic reaction
In rare cases, it's possible to have a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to azithromycin.
Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E now if:
you get a skin rash that may include itchy, red, swollen, blistered, or peeling skin
you get tightness in the chest or throat
you have trouble breathing or talking
your mouth, face, lips, tongue, or throat start swelling
You could be having a serious allergic reaction and may need immediate treatment in the hospital.
These aren't all the side effects of azithromycin. For a full list, see the leaflet inside your medicine packet.
You can report any suspected side effects using the Yellow Card safety scheme.
Visit Yellow Card for further information.
How to cope with side effects
What to do about:
feeling sick (nausea) - stick to simple meals and do not eat rich or spicy food while you're taking this medicine.
diarrhea or being sick (vomiting) - drink lots of fluids such as water or squash to avoid dehydration. Take small, frequent sips if you're being sick. Signs of dehydration include peeing less than usual or having strong-smelling pee. Do not take any other medicines to treat diarrhea or vomiting without speaking to a pharmacist or doctor.