I’m taking antibiotics for a sinus infection. Do I have to use a backup method with my birth control pills?

That’s a great question! There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the way that antibiotics and combined hormonal birth control (pill, patch, ring) interact. The package inserts in some packs of pills even contain a warning about antibiotics! Take a deep breath, though (as much as possible through your blocked sinuses!)–research shows that most antibiotics have no effect on how well your birth control protects against pregnancy.

There IS one type of antibiotic that impacts your pill–rifampin, which is sometimes used to treat tuberculosis.

The drug changes how your liver processes the hormones in combined hormonal birth control, making it less effective. This info may have somehow become jumbled up and generalized to all antibiotics, but it’s specific to that type, and not a concern otherwise. Be cautious, though–common (and unpleasant) side effects of antibiotics like vomiting and diarrhea CAN influence how your body absorbs the hormones in birth control. If you’re experiencing these side effects while taking your pill, ask your healthcare provider if you need to use a backup method.

Just a quick note on doubling up–It is ALWAYS a great idea to back up your birth control with a barrier method.

No method of birth control is 100 percent effective (oral contraceptives have a typical use failure rate of 9 percent), and condoms can help reduce chances of a birth control mishap. In addition, condoms (male and female) are the only effective way to protect you against STIs!

In general, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor when taking any kind of medication, whether it is prescribed, over the counter, or picked up at your local health food store.

St. John’s Wort, for example, is an herbal supplement used to boost mood that has been shown to decrease birth control effectiveness. ALWAYS make sure to ask your healthcare provider about everything you’re taking–there are a few drugs that do sneakily mess with your birth control, and it’s essential to keep your doctor in the loop.