Does smoking interfere with antibiotic drugs?
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Question: Can I smoke while taking antibiotics?

Answer: We all know smoking is bad for our health, so we should not be doing it in the first place. However, some people find pleasure in smoking and are not able to appreciate the risks associated with this habit.

It takes about seven seconds after the first puff from a cigarette for the brain to start functioning irregularly. Nicotine packed blood is carried from the lungs all over the body and this alters the chemical substances in the body. Of course, people might report improved mood, focus and the feeling of being “high”. However, the chemicals suppress the body's immune system, making the smoker more prone to infections and causing the healing process to be slower. Even if the smoker is given antibiotics, the infection will still take longer to heal because the antibiotics will not receive sufficient aid from the body's immune system.

The immune system is the body's natural way to fight off infections and diseases. In fact, it is essential to our survival in a world filled with all kinds of dangerous pathogens (disease causing organisms). The immune system is made up of special organs, cells, and chemicals that fight infections. It is a complex system that acts like a database — it keeps a record of every infection that it has ever fought. If an infection enters the body again, the immune system pulls up the file on the infection and is able to quickly fight it off before it causes any significant harm. The immune system is always active, searching for foreign bodies to attack. When a foreign body is identified, the immune system launches a coordinated attack on the object. Depending on the type of foreign body or the intensity of the infection, the immune system may take different lengths of time to defeat it. But be assured, the immune system is a relentless army that is always on the battle field, fighting for our lives.

When the immune system is not working properly, diseases are able to progress. One of the known factors that prevents the immune system from functioning properly is cigarette smoke. When we smoke, we are undermining the integrity of the hard-working cells in the immune system. Smoking slows down the immune response and makes it less effective in combating diseases that seek to upend our lives. Hence, it is not beneficial for us to smoke, as this leaves us prone to infections.

Having said all that, there is really no evidence to show that smoking directly interferes with antibiotic drugs. Smoking interferes with the body's immune response and by virtue of that, makes the antibiotic drugs less effective. Smoking slows down the recovery process, so one might think that the antibiotic is not working effectively. The fact, though, is that the antibiotics are not getting the requisite help from the body's immune system to help fight off the infection.

In order for antibiotic medications to work with maximum effectiveness, smokers should stop smoking at least for the duration of the therapy. Better yet, try to quit the habit overall so you can have a fully functioning immune system all the time.

Novia Jerry Stewart, MSc, RPh, is a pharmacist who specialises in ophthalmic care. She may be contacted at

(Photo: Pixabay)
Novia Jerry Stewart
Novia Jerry Stewart

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