The Independent Pharmacy

Using Tetracyclines for Acne: The Right Dosage and Possible Side Effects

Scott McDougall
Scott McDougallMPharmDirector & Registered Manager

Reviewed on 14 Apr 2022

Serving as the main ingredients of treatments for numerous bacterial conditions, tetracyclines are oral antibiotics that play huge parts in the fight against acne. We stock several such acne treatments, including Oxytetracycline — but if you’re planning to use one of them, you should learn more about how tetracyclines work. Every medical treatment can produce side effects on rare occasions. The more you know about what can go wrong, the more confident you can be.

In this guide, we’ll take you through some key information about tetracyclines. We’ll cover how they function, what the most common side effects are, how they can interact negatively with other treatments, how you can get the dosage right, and when you should consider consulting relevant medical professionals for further advice. Let’s begin.

How tetracyclines treat acne and other bacterial infections

Tetracyclines fundamentally operate by inhibiting the process through which the targeted bacteria produce the proteins they need to grow. Because they don’t stop that process, they can’t outright eliminate the bacteria, but they can significantly limit its activity. And since they only affect bacteria cells, not human cells, they’re extremely safe to use. This has been proven through decades of commercial treatment distribution.

Since tetracyclines are taken orally and aren't limited to affecting any specific bacteria, they offer excellent all-purpose protection against infections throughout the body. This is why they’re used to treat so many things, appearing in treatments for many different bacterial infections (including urinary tract infections and bronchitis). And since acne is heavily exacerbated by bacteria, taking a tetracycline-based treatment offers a great alternative to using a topical treatment.

Side effects of tetracyclines to look out for

When taking a tetracycline antibiotic through any of the available treatments, the following side effects are the most common for adults (though even the most common effects are rare):

  • Nausea
  • Stomach aches
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Appetite loss
  • Throat soreness
  • Painful swallowing
  • Swollen tongue
  • Rectal or genital swelling
  • Vaginal discharge or itching

The following side effects are less common:

  • Vomiting
  • Nail pigmentation
  • Pericarditis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Skin shedding
  • Benign intracranial hypertension
  • Abdominal cramps

And these side effects are the rarest:

  • Sunburn
  • Discolouration of teeth
  • Hand or feet numbness or tingling
  • Muscle weakness or pain
  • Yellowed skin or eyes
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Decreased hearing
  • Susceptibility to bleeding or bruising
  • Severe abdominal or stomach pain
  • Darkened urine
  • Allergic reactions

How to spot an allergic reaction

Almost anything can set off allergies in rare cases, and it’s certainly possible for someone to have an allergy to tetracyclines (often part of a broader allergy to comparable drugs including demeclocycline and doxycycline). The chief indications of such a reaction are the development of hives, facial swelling (particularly in and around the mouth), and breathing issues.

If you suspect that you’re having a response indicating an allergy, seek help from a healthcare professional immediately. Breathing issues are incredibly dangerous (particularly from treatments used to address serious infections) and there’s no guarantee that you’ll recover sufficiently from simply resting and letting the tetracycline treatment leave your system.

If in doubt, consult healthcare professionals

Reading a list of side effects and understanding that some are relatively common (and similarly trivial) can lend a false sense of security. It’s true that some of these side effects can be managed without further assistance. If you find that you’re prone to burning, for instance, you can wear protective clothing. Other unwanted effects are of course more concerning.

In the end, it’s entirely up to you to decide when something is serious enough to seek help. The best way to proceed is to go by your instincts. If you’re extremely worried that you’re having a bad reaction to a tetracycline antibiotic, that’s sufficient reason to consult a health care professional. They can offer you advice, diagnosis, or treatment alternatives. If your healthcare provider tells you there’s no reason to worry, you can move ahead minus the anxiety.

Possible drug interactions: can you use it with other drugs?

Oral medications are generally more likely to cause negative drug interactions than their topical equivalents. Tetracycline antibiotics tend to be very safe alongside treatments for everyday maladies, but there are some notable interactions to avoid, particularly concerning other acne treatments. It isn’t advised to use one of these treatments while using a tretinoin-based treatment such as Treclin gel. There are also various other treatments that can lead to problems.

This shouldn’t be an issue since medications using tetracyclines are prescription-only. When you have your consultation, you’ll need to mention any other treatments you’re taking or intend to take in the near future. Any potential interactions can then be flagged and avoided. Of course, you should mention anything else you’re doing that may be cause for concern. Breastfeeding during treatment, for instance, is a bad idea since the antibiotic can be carried through the milk and lead to issues such as tooth discolouration in the baby or babies being fed.

How to get the dosage right

The dosage of a tetracycline treatment will depend on three things in particular: the form of the treatment (whether it’s a tablet or simply powder, as is possible), the strength of a single application, and the infection being targeted. The course of treatment will range from a couple of weeks to months if the acne infections prove particularly stubborn.

When you receive your prescription, you’ll have clear instructions for how frequently you should take the treatment (and anything else you may need to know, such as the need to take it on an empty stomach — it’s particularly key to avoid consuming dairy products beforehand or shortly after). Whatever your doctor tells you should be followed to the letter. If the treatment doesn’t seem to be working, don’t disregard the prescription label: explain the situation to your doctor so they can search for an alternative treatment.

What to do after a missed dose

In the event that you miss a dose, don’t attempt to make up for it by consuming a double dose. Simply accept that you’ve missed it, resume your usual course of treatment, and make an effort to be more careful. There are dosage limits for a good reason. There’s only so much your system can handle in a simple application.

Remember that you can reach out to The Independent Pharmacy if you have questions about taking tetracycline-based medication or any other acne treatment. We’ll be happy to help you figure out your situation, and can provide a free consultation so we can find and ship you the most suitable treatment.

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