Tetracycline is an antibiotic which has been safely used to treat skin disorders for over 30 years. It is most commonly used to treat acne, but some other skin disorders, such as rosacea and perioral dermatitis, also respond well to it. Since the antibiotic does not cure, but only suppresses these skin conditions, it may be necessary to continue taking it for months or even years.

How does it work? There is a bacteria that normally lives on the skin called Propionibacterium acnes. This bacteria feeds on the sebum produced by the skin’s oil glands. Sometimes, this bacteria multiplies and causes inflammation and acne. Tetracycline reduces the number of these bacteria.

Are there any side effects to worry about?

Out of innumerable women using oral contraceptives who have taken tetracycline, a few have become pregnant. It is debatable as to whether the failure of the contraceptive is due to the tetracycline or the established 1.0% failure rate of the pill.

The antibiotic does make you more sensitive to sunlight. In other words, it’s easier to get a sunburn while taking the medication, so you should use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher.

Ten percent of female patients will develop a yeast infection while taking antibiotics. The onset of genital itching and vaginal discharge suggests the beginning of a yeast infection. If this occurs, call your dermatologist and he/she will prescribe treatment. The antibiotic may be continued. It is thought that eating yogurt two to three times a week will help prevent the problem.

Tetracycline should be discontinued if you become pregnant because it is incorporated into the baby’s bones and teeth. Also, it often causes temporary nausea and abdominal cramps. If diarrhea or vomiting occurs, you should stop the medication and call your dermatologist.

In general, it is considered safe as long as you follow your doctor’s instructions and use it as prescribed.

How is tetracycline taken?

The medication should be taken with water on an empty stomach, either 1 hour before meals or 2 hours after meals. You should not take it with milk or dairy products because this will decrease the absorption of the medicine.

It usually takes 4-6 weeks before you will see significant results while taking the medicine. It can take 2-3 months to get the full effect, so you’ll have to be patient.

Do not take tetracycline with iron, calcium or antacids. You should wait at least 2 hours before taking tetracycline if you must take one of these medicines or vitamins.

Do not take this drug if you are nursing an infant, if you are under 8 years old, or if your are taking barbiturates, lithium or phenytoin (Dilantin).

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