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What is Tetracycline?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Feb 04, 2024
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Tetracycline is an antibiotic used to treat a variety of bacterial infections. It is most commonly used to treat pneumonia, typhus, cholera, strep throat, and persistent acne. It is related to other antibiotics like doxycycline and minocycline. If one has an adverse or allergic reaction to any of the drugs in this family, this may mean allergies to all of the drugs of this type. One should notify one’s physician of any past allergic reactions to any of these medications.

Tetracycline is often taken in pill or capsule form, or it can be administered intravenously for severe infections. It rarely comes in a liquid form. This is because most liquid forms of antibiotics are used with children, and children under the age of eight should not use tetracycline unless absolutely necessary. When used by children, this antibiotic can cause permanent staining of the teeth and may also interfere with normal bone growth.

As well, pregnant and nursing women should not use this medication. It has known mutagenic qualities, which can cause damage to the unborn child. It does pass into breast milk and may cause bone growth problems or teeth staining in nursing children.

Tetracycline can have specific interactions with other medications. Calcium and magnesium can interfere with absorption of the drug, so it is recommended that those taking calcium based drugs for heart conditions avoid tetracycline. Also antacids, which frequently contain calcium and/or magnesium, can interfere with absorption.

Tetracycline may also decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills. If you are on the medication and want to prevent pregnancy, it is recommended you use a barrier method for additional protection. Iron, as well, seems to inhibit the drug, and the medication can also dramatically change the values of the medication of Coumadin, so levels should be carefully monitored.

Like many other medications, this antibiotic may cause sun sensitivity, which is considered a minor side effect. If you are taking this drug for long-term use, as many with acne do, you should carefully test the degree to which your skin may exhibit sun sensitivity to avoid sunburn and skin damage. Long-term use for acne was once frequent, but recent studies suggest that such use may cause antibiotic resistant bacteria to form on the skin. This may result in more persistent acne, and may also make infection more likely after surgery.

Some common side effects of tetracycline are upset stomach, and slight changes in skin color. If these symptoms do not dissipate after a few days, you should alert your doctor. As well, tetracycline, like many antibiotics, makes one more prone to yeast infections in women, and jock itch in men. Eating yogurt daily can help reduce but cannot always prevent yeast infections.

Serious side effects that should immediately be brought to the attention of a doctor are skin rash or hives, vomiting, yellowing of the eyes, difficulty breathing, throat sores, or significant joint pain. These symptoms can indicate allergy to the medication, and may require both switching the medication, and treatment to reverse the affects of a severe allergic reaction.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon262989 — On Apr 22, 2012

Yes, tetracycline is also given to treat STDs. It is commonly used to treat chlamydia.

By anon42284 — On Aug 20, 2009

Why would the doctor give this medication after an abortion?

By nicole1 — On Feb 20, 2008

Do tetracycline work for STD'S?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia...
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