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Learn More about the Different Types of IV Antibiotics

Many of you have asked us about IV antibiotic therapy. In this updated post, we will cover the following range of topics:

  • What are Intravenous Antibiotics?
  • Types of IV Antibiotics
  • Antibiotic Delivery through IVs
  • Receiving Antibiotic Treatment through IVs
  • Guidelines for Administering through a PICC line
  • Common Concerns and Complaints
  • Warning Signs and Side Effects
  • What are Intravenous Antibiotics?

    Intravenous antibiotics are antibiotics that are administered directly into a vein so that they can enter the bloodstream immediately and bypass the absorption in the gut. It is estimated that more than 250,000 patients in the US receive outpatient IV antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. Typically, they are arranged by a physician that specializes in infectious disease.

    Types of IV Antibiotics

    The main classes of antibiotics are as follows:

    • Cephalosporins such as cefepime (maxipime), cefazolin (Ancef), ceftriaxone (Rocephin)
    • Fluoroquinolones such as moxifloxacin (Avelox), ciprofloxacin (Cipro) and levofloxacin (Levaquin)
    • Penicillin such as piperacillin/tazobactam (Zosyn)
    • Glycopeptides such as Vancomycin, Daptomycin, Dalbavancin (Dalvance), Oritavancin (Orbactiv), Telavancin (Vibativ)
    • Nitroimidazoles such as metronidazole (Flagyl)
    • Oxazolidinone such as Linezolid (Zyvox)
    • Carbapenems such as Meropenum (Merrem)

    Antibiotic Delivery through IVs

    According to the National Library of Medicine, IV antibiotics are often used for bacterial infections in the lungs, hearts, bones, soft tissue, and brain. They can be used to treat bacterial infections that are resistant to traditional oral medications. Likewise, a combination of different antibiotics can be used to treat multidrug-resistant bacterial infections. Antibiotics fight infection caused by bacteria, and intravenous antibiotics are used for infections that are resistant to oral antibiotics or for infections that may require high doses of antibiotics that cannot be taken orally.

      Receiving Antibiotic Treatment through IVs

      Most of the time, intravenous (IV) antibiotic treatment is provided in a hospital. However, when it is safe and appropriate, antibiotic therapy can effectively treat patients at home or another healthcare facility. Each year, over 250,000 patients are successfully treated with IV antibiotics at home.

      The antibiotic is administered through a small narrow flexible tube called a catheter or IV line, which is inserted into a vein using a needle. The needle is removed, and the IV line is left in place and secured by a dressing. There are different types of IV lines available, and the one chosen for your treatment will depend on your veins and how long you will need the antibiotics.

      For example, patients with small peripheral veins often utilize something called PICC lines (Peripherally Inserted Central Catheters), where medication is administered directly to the heart. Considering PICC lines must be flushed daily, and their dressings have to be inspected and changed, patients with PICC lines must avoid getting them wet or dirty.

      Guidelines for Administering through a PICC Line

      • Wash your hands. Use warm water and soap to scrub for 1 minute. Wash between fingers and rinse thoroughly.
      • Dry your hands. Use a fresh paper towel and use it to turn off the water so that you do not touch a dirty surface after washing. Set the paper towel aside, and throw it away after the IV care is done.
      • Put gloves on. Always wear medical gloves when touching and administering IV antibiotics. Be sure to keep gloves clean at all times and discard after use.
      • Prep injection site. Wipe down all IV antibiotics injection sites with alcohol prep before injection. Wipe the PICC line opening with alcohol before attaching it to the IV.
      • Hang the IV bag. The drip chamber should be at least 18 inches above your head.
      • Make sure everything is clean and sterile. Always clean the catheter port with an alcohol wipe before use. Flush the catheter with saline or heparin as directed by your medical team.
      • Attach IV and begin. Attach the IV tubing to your catheter and secure it with tape. Start the medication as directed by your doctor.

          Common Concerns and Complaints

          The most common risks associated with intravenous catheters include blockages, blood clots, and infection. Patients need to contact a healthcare professional if they notice any fever, swelling, pain, or redness in the arm with the catheter.

          One common complaint of using IV antibiotics is the pain and irritation around the IV site. In some cases, the medication can burn as it runs through the veins. When experiencing pain at the IV site, it’s essential that the patient specifies what type of pain is present because a poorly inserted IV can lead to a leakage of medication to the adjacent tissue. When medication is leaking out of the vein, it can damage the surrounding tissues. If this happens, the site can appear swollen and red, and is extremely painful, which in turn means that a new IV needs to be inserted.

            Warning Signs and Side Effects

            The most common side effects associated with using IV antibiotics include rash, itch, diarrhea. Rarely the medications can cause abnormal kidney or liver laboratory test results. Your doctor may need to monitor for these side effects and adjusts the antibiotic when necessary. However, it is crucial to be aware of warning signs related to receiving IV therapy, including:

            • Allergic reactions: itching, swelling of the throat, tongue, rash, etc
            • Swelling of your vein or discoloration around the skin
            • Numbness or tingling in the arm of the PICC line
            • Air embolism (a bubble of air gets into the vein and travels to your heart or lungs)
            • If an IV comes out of your vein, first put pressure over the opening where the IV was until the bleeding stops and call your home health care agency or doctor right away.

            Call your doctor, nurse, or healthcare professional if you have these signs of infection:

            • Redness, swelling or bruising at the site where the needle enters the vein
            • Pain
            • Bleeding
            • Fever over 100.5 °F (38.0 °C)

            Call 9-1-1 immediately if you experience:

            • Any breathing problems
            • A fast heart rate
            • Dizziness
            • Chest pain



              Updated: 3/17/2021

              Reviewed by: Gregory Weingart, MD, a practicing ER physician, and Assistant Professor at the Eastern Virginia Medical School



              If you are looking for more resources and support for those going using IV Antibitoics, check out our other blogs

              What is a PICC Line?

              Susan's PICC Line Journey

              What It's Like Living With A Rare Disease: Cystic Fibrosis

              Lindsay's Fearless Fight Against Lyme

              We love hearing from our community members! If you have any further questions, feel free to contact us for more information.

              11 Responses

              Darlene Menzies

              Darlene Menzies

              October 18, 2022

              I suffer from MAC lung infection and nothing is working. Would IV antibiotics be a good option. We tried Cipro once and it failed to work, but I’d like to try it again.

              Katherine Hettrick

              Katherine Hettrick

              October 18, 2022

              My sister has bags on both sides colan and urine is there a front open shirt to help her with her bags

              Betty white

              Betty white

              February 07, 2022

              My doctor wants to do it on high dose anabiotic. Drip for me because I have tendinitis and I’m hearing things I have oral hallucinations because it wise to get this done. I also have white matter on the brain and it’s called CAA .Is it safe for me to have it done thank you Betty white

              Heather Storey

              Heather Storey

              December 14, 2020

              I always get tonsillitis at least twice a year and I would like to know for my knowledge what are the types of intravenous antibiotics they will give you at the hospital when you are admitted for this type of infection? And generally how long are you in the hospital for? Okay thank you can’t wait to hear from someone. Kindest regards Heather Merry Christmas to all

              Shara shaffer

              Shara shaffer

              August 28, 2020

              The doctors won’t let me go home with a pic line because I’m an iv drug user… well the only reason I use is for the pain of the discitis. If they would put someone in charge like a family member who doesn’t use or my mom who is a phlebotomist why can’t I/ we do that ? I’m not going back to the hospital for 6 to 8 weeks which is what they are telling me… I’m just not gonna do it.

              Darren Cole

              Darren Cole

              July 30, 2020

              Thanks for sharing this article..

              Nwaele Godpower Chimaroke

              Nwaele Godpower Chimaroke

              July 02, 2020

              What is Linezolid drug used for?

              Jill Shive

              Jill Shive

              June 11, 2020

              You forgot one huge subject about this topic. The cost of the antibiotics to the patient. Not affordable for most.
              Thank you.

              Sage donati

              Sage donati

              March 08, 2020

              Thanks for the help

              Daniel Sizemore

              Daniel Sizemore

              March 09, 2020

              I also have burning of the veins Plus I noticed a lot of redness Plus I have bumps all over my feet. I called the doctor who did the surgery on my hip because that’s the infection in that I got right at my hip area my new hip they put me on this strong antibiotic that you mentioned the vancomycin. I have already receive 15 bags in hospital and have put another six bags in my veins since I’ve been home with the pic that I have. I told my doctor he told me to stop right away to come in and see him this Tuesday to see the problem that I have all I know I can’t put the stuff in my veins no more which is scary they want me to stay on this stuff till July 2nd that’s over a hundred bags of antibiotics that’s crazy
              Janet kerpan

              Janet kerpan

              February 12, 2017

              I have addison disease, type one diabetes and thyroid disease. I always have some type of infection. I have one in my mouth from dental surgeries six months ago I can’t get rid of. Think I Will have to go in hospital for Iv antibiotics.

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