Is Augmentin Better Than Amoxicillin?

Choosing the Right Antibiotic for an Infection

Amoxicillin capsules. Tek Image/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

If you have ever been prescribed antibiotics for a bacterial infection, you have probably been given amoxicillin or Augmentin (amoxicillin clavulanate) at one time or another. If your child has ever needed antibiotics, both may have been prescribed.

While many people believe that Augmentin is simply a stronger version of amoxicillin, the reality is that both have their appropriate use and limitations to how they should be used.

Amoxicillin

Amoxicillin is often the first antibiotic prescribed for common infections like ear infections and strep throat. It is typically used in young children because it is effective against many common childhood bacterial infections and doesn't have many severe side effects.

Amoxicillin is effective against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacterial. This refers to the physical structure of a bacteria and determines which drug may be most effective in eradicating it.

Amoxicillin is commonly used to treat:

  • Ear, nose, and throat infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Lower respiratory tract infections, including pneumonia
  • Heliobacter pylori associated with ulcers
  • Tonsillitis
  • Skin infections
  • Lyme disease
  • Chlamydia

While amoxicillin can kill many of the same bacteria as penicillin, it is less effective against Streptococcus pneumococcus (the type commonly associated with meningitis and systemic bacteremia).

Amoxicillin may cause side effects, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, vaginal itching, rash, and a dark or "hairy" tongue.

Augmentin

Augmentin is amoxicillin combined with clavulanate, a beta-lactamase blocker. Beta-lactamase inhibitors are not antibiotics but rather block the enzymes that contribute to antibiotic resistance.

By adding a beta-lactamase blocker to amoxicillin, Augmentin is able to overcome resistance to harder-to-treat bacteria, broadening the spectrum of infections it can treat. It is for this reason that Augmentin is referred to as a broad-spectrum antibiotic.

Augmentin can treat the same gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria as amoxicillin but can also be used for other harder-to-treat infections, including:

  • Sinus infections
  • Ear infections
  • Bacterial infections associated with COPD
  • Pyelonephritis (kidney infections)
  • Skin abscesses
  • Erysipelas, a type of skin infection
  • Diabetic foot
  • Chronic strep "carriers"

The most common side effect of Augmentin is diarrhea. Some people may also experience nausea, vomiting, yeast infections, and rash.

Choosing the Right Antibiotic

If you have an infection and don't necessarily know which bacteria is causing it, it may seem to make sense to use an antibiotic that would kill the most bugs. However, doing that can cause major problems.

Antibiotics used indiscriminately can end up killing "good bacteria" along with the "bad." Doing so can alter the body's natural flora and allow even worse bacteria to proliferate.

Another, even more pressing concern is that using broad spectrum antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance. Resistance develops when an antibiotic you are using are unable to fully eradicate a bacteria in your body, often because you stopped treatment before you were supposed to.

When this happens, a few mutated bacteria may survive, some of which may be naturally resistant to the antibiotic you were taking. Because you didn't "hit the infection hard enough," these survivors now have the opportunity to multiply and become the dominant strain. As such, the next time you develop an infection, the antibiotic will not work anywhere near as well.

If this happens with broad-spectrum antibiotic like Augmentin, you will be at greater risk of having multiple types of drug resistance. With a "narrow-spectrum" antibiotic like amoxicillin, the consequence may be less severe.

How to Avoid Antibiotic Resistance

  • Always take an antibiotic as prescribed.
  • Complete the entire course even if you feel better.
  • Do not save antibiotics for future use.
  • Do not use someone else's antibiotics.
  • Do not take antibiotics for a viral infection.
  • Avoid overuse. Take an antibiotic only if your doctor deems it necessary.

A Word From Verywell

Whether you get a prescription for Augmentin, amoxicillin, or some other antibiotic, it's not so much the "strength" of the drug you should be concerned about; it's all about the safety, efficacy, and appropriateness of treatment.

People are sometime surprised, and even taken aback, when they are given amoxicillin for a serious infection such as pneumonia. But in many cases that may be all that is needed to resolve the infection. Unless an infection is especially severe, doctor will often prefer to "stage" treatment, starting with amoxicillin and only considering a broad-spectrum antibiotic if the initial treatment fails.

If you don't believe that the antibiotic being prescribed is "strong enough," speak with your doctor. This is especially true if you have a new doctor or don't see a doctor all that often.

If you've had recurrent infections in the past for which amoxicillin hasn't helped, let the doctor know. The more your doctor knows about your previous antibiotic use, the better choices he or she can make.

Antibiotic Prescribing Guidelines
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Article Sources
  • Amoxil, Moxatag (amoxicillin) dosing, indications, interactions, adverse effects, and more. http://reference.medscape.com/drug/amoxil-moxatag-amoxicillin-342473. 
  • Augmentin, Augmentin XR (amoxacillin/clavulanate) dosing, indications, interactions, adverse effects, and more. http://reference.medscape.com/drug/augmentin-amoxicillin-clavulanate-342474#10. 
  • Gram-negative Bacteria | NIH: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. https://www.niaid.nih.gov/research/gram-negative-bacteria.