Erythromycin is an antibiotic that treats illnesses and diseases caused by some bacteria. It’s also sold under Ery, Eryderm, Erygel, and Ilotycin.

Erythromycin is part of the macrolide family of antibiotics. Macrolides are sourced from Saccharopolyspora erythraea, which is a kind of bacteria found in soil. Erythromycin was the first macrolide antibiotic to be developed and used. Doctors have been prescribing this medication since the 1950s. Erythromycin is a helpful alternative to penicillin. It’s precious because it’s effective against penicillin-resistant bacteria. Erythromycin and other macrolides can also be a safe option for patients who are allergic to penicillin.

Erythromycin is prescribed for many different purposes. It can treat many concerns, including respiratory tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, skin infections, diphtheria, etc. Erythromycin and other antibiotics are only effective against bacteria. These medicines can’t treat viral infections like the flu, the common cold, or COVID-19.

How Does Erythromycin Work?

Erythromycin is derived from bacteria initially found in the soil. Its specific strain of bacteria, S. erythraea, produces erythromycin to attack other bacteria. Scientists think bacteria create antibiotics to kill other bacteria and reduce resource competition.

Erythromycin’s mechanism of action prevents bacteria from making proteins. Bacteria and other cells produce proteins to perform every type of cellular function. If a cell can’t make protein, it also can’t make energy for itself, metabolize waste, reproduce, or interfere with the cells in your body. Individual bacteria cells die without reproducing. When patients take erythromycin as prescribed, the antibiotic eventually wipes out all their bacteria cells. The infection should clear up, and the patient should start feeling normal again.

Erythromycin is commonly used for the following conditions:

  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Legionnaire’s Disease
  • Pertussis
  • Syphilis
  • Diphtheria
  • Ear infections
  • Yeast and other gynecological infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Skin infections
  • Chronic rheumatoid fever

Precautions and Warnings of Erythromycin 

Many patients tolerate erythromycin well. However, this antibiotic isn’t a good match for everyone. Before taking this drug, tell your doctor if you are allergic to erythromycin or any other antibiotic. Antibiotic allergies can cause severe and life-threatening side effects.

People can also develop antibiotic allergies later in life. Even if you have taken erythromycin before without problems, you might react. Watch out for signs of an allergic reaction, including shortness of breath, swelling, hives, redness in the face or neck, and rapid heartbeat.

It’s essential to take the entire round of erythromycin as prescribed, even once you start to feel better. Many patients improve after taking this antibiotic for a few days because most infectious bacteria have been killed. However, there may still be a few bacteria in your body. Your infection can rebound from just a single bacterium.

If you stop taking erythromycin early, the drug might not have enough time to wipe out the entire infection. You can get sick again if you don’t take all your antibiotics. Keep taking all your medicine to make sure you receive the full effect.

There are strategies for protecting your “good” bacteria levels while you take erythromycin. Eat foods with bacteria to reintroduce them to your body. Yogurt is a common suggestion, but fermented food contains beneficial, healthy bacteria. Here are some examples you can try:

  • Yogurt
  • Sour cream
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Kefir
  • Miso
  • Sourdough bread
  • Apple cider vinegar

Side Effects of Erythromycin

Erythromycin is an excellent tool for patients with infections. However, it does come with side effects. Antibiotics like erythromycin are broad-stroke medications. They don’t target specific strains of bacteria. Instead, they kill all kinds of bacteria throughout your body. Killing unwanted bacteria is good, mainly when these bacteria cause infections. But the human body is also home to many strains of beneficial bacteria. Bacteria are vital to the digestive system and other bodily functions. Antibiotics wipe out this “good” bacteria alongside the “bad.”

Erythromycin often causes stomach and digestive problems since it impacts your gut biome. Diarrhea, indigestion, and vomiting are common erythromycin side effects. Luckily, these symptoms resolve in a few days for most patients. C. difficile also involves diarrhea but lasts longer than antibiotic side effects. Patients also have a high fever, lack of appetite, weight loss, painful cramps, and sometimes bloody diarrhea. Let your doctor know if you have any of these symptoms since C. difficile can be fatal in rare circumstances.

Taking antibiotics can lead to other infections once your natural bacteria levels change. Erythromycin patients may experience the following:

  • Yeast infections
  • Bladder infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Oral thrush

Drug Interactions with Erythromycin

Erythromycin and other antibiotics interact with many medications. Some drugs change how your body metabolizes erythromycin, which changes how it works. In other cases, erythromycin impacts how your body uses other substances. Tell your doctor what prescriptions, supplements, and over-the-counter medicines you use to determine if they interact with erythromycin.

Erythromycin can alter some patients’ heart rate. Don’t take erythromycin if you take other medicines that can change your heart’s rhythm, known as QT prolongation.

Erythromycin and many other antibiotics interfere with hormonal birth control methods. If you use birth control to prevent pregnancy, you should add another technique while you’re taking erythromycin and until your next menstrual period.

Erythromycin can also interfere with drug test results, so you may experience false positives while taking erythromycin.

It would be best if you didn’t take erythromycin with the following drugs:

  • Antifungals from the azole class
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Some anti-seizure medications
  • Some benzodiazepines
  • Eletriptan
  • Viagara, Cialis, and other erectile dysfunction medicine
  • Statins
  • Colchicine
  • Bromocriptine
  • Eletriptan
  • Ergot alkaloids

Strengths and Dosages of Erythromycin

Erythromycin is typically an oral medication prescribed as a tablet, capsule, or liquid. Patients with severe infections may receive IV erythromycin or an injection in a hospital or doctor’s office. Your doctor might also prescribe erythromycin as an ointment or gel for topical skin infections.

This antibiotic is available in many strengths, dosages, and formulations. Some erythromycin types contain other ingredients reflected in the medicine name.

Types of ErythromycinStrengths
erythromycin250 mg, 333 mg, 500 mg
erythromycin stearate250 mg, 333 mg, 500 mg
erythromycin ethylsuccinate400 mg, 200 mg/5 ml, 500 mg/5 ml, 100 mg/2.5 ml
erythromycin lactobionate500 mg, 1 g
erythromycin estolate500 mg, 125 mg/5 ml, 250 mg/5 ml
erythromycin gluceptate1 g

Alternatives to Erythromycin

Many other antibiotics besides erythromycin are available. Other macrolide antibiotics are an alternative to erythromycin for patients who shouldn’t take penicillin. These include:

  • Zithromax
  • Fidaxomicin
  • Telithromycin
  • Akne-Mycin
  • Azasite
  • Biaxin
  • Dificid
  • EES
  • Erythrocin
  • Ilotycin
  • Neobenz Micro
  • Zmax

Erythromycin FAQs

Why did my doctor prescribe erythromycin?

Your doctor may have chosen erythromycin for several reasons. Erythromycin is an antibiotic safe for patients allergic to penicillin and effective against penicillin-resistant infections. If you have a penicillin allergy or are treating a resistant infection, erythromycin should help you safely see results. It is also incredibly effective against certain diseases, including STDs, respiratory illnesses, and skin infections.

Is the Z-Pack the same as erythromycin?

No, the Z-Pack is not the same as erythromycin. The Z-Pack contains azithromycin. Azithromycin is similar to erythromycin because they’re both macrolide antibiotics from the same type of bacteria. However, they are different medications.

Do I need to take erythromycin after I feel better?

You must take your entire erythromycin prescription for the best results. Your infection can return from just a few bacteria. Take your entire dose to wipe out all the infectious bacteria.

What is the average cost of erythromycin in America?

Generic erythromycin is sold for around $50 for a six-tablet prescription of 500mg tablets. Insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid usually cover this antibiotic, so the out-of-pocket cost may be lower. Patients can also look for coupons to bring the price down even further.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The information provided here is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. It should not be taken as an endorsement of any specific medication or treatment. Individual health conditions and responses to treatment can vary greatly; therefore, this information should not be seen as a guarantee of safety, suitability, or effectiveness for any particular individual. Always consult with a healthcare professional for personalized medical advice and before making any decisions regarding your health or treatment plans.

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