While it is tempting for individuals to look for a quick and easy remedy when ill, more often than not, antibiotics are not the answer we should adopt.
The way clinicians prescribe antibiotics can be confusing, because, they prescribe them at some times but not at others, and for one patient but not the next.
Antibiotics have been extremely effective and often lifesaving in the treatment of some infectious diseases. However, they don’t cure all illnesses and can sometimes even cause significant medical complications.
Health care providers have seen unfortunate complications of inappropriate antibiotic use and it is important that antibiotics are administered appropriately.
Antibiotics are prescribed when appropriate but are not used when dealing with a viral infection where the medication will do no good, with the potential for significant harm.
There are certain medical conditions that benefit greatly from antibiotics. Conditions such as:
- Strep throat,
- pneumonia from bacteria,
- kidney infections,
- Some severe skin infections, etc.
Antibiotics save lives and prevent terrible infections when bacteria are to blame, but antibiotics are not without risk.
Antibiotics do no good for children when viruses are the cause of the infection and the use of antibiotics when unnecessary, contributes to “unnecessary health care costs, avoidable adverse events, and the development of antibiotic-resistant infections.
Viral vs Bacterial Infections
Antibiotics typically are effective against bacteria but not against viruses. It does not help in viral illnesses such as mononucleosis, flu, and colds, and studies have shown that the vast majority of infectious diseases in college-age patients are viral rather than bacterial infections.
In practice, antibiotics are often used to treat these infections because differentiating between bacterial and viral infections is difficult, but researchers are attempting to develop new categories of drugs to combat viral diseases.
Clinicians use clinical history, examination and laboratory tests to distinguish between viral and bacterial infections, and patients with bacterial infections generally appear more acutely ill, often displaying shaking, chills and high fever, with high white blood cell counts.
Clinicians may use cultures from the throat, sputum, urine, blood or wound to identify the bacteria along with its antibiotic sensitivity, and it is this same information that helps the clinician choose an antibiotic that will be effective.
Complications of Antibiotic Use
Such complications include:
- Allergic reactions: You can develop an allergy at any time, even if you have safely used the antibiotic in the past, and most allergic reactions to antibiotics are relatively minor skin reactions. However, occasionally life-threatening allergic reactions occur, with swelling of the throat that can result in difficulty in breathing.
- Sway on body balance: Antibiotics cannot distinguish between normal body bacteria and disease-causing bacteria, and this can result in a disturbance in the natural balance of organisms, which may lead to severe diarrhea or, more commonly, yeast vaginitis in women.
- Bacterial resistance: Bacteria can develop resistance to an antibiotic, and the more antibiotics are used, the more resistance is evident. Some bacteria are resistant to all known antibiotics, and that has become a major concern in the US, as well as in certain developing countries where antibiotics are available without a prescription.
- Other problems may arise from the effects of certain antibiotics, such as severe gastrointestinal upset, sun sensitivity, and interactions with other medications.
Tips For Improving Antibiotic Use
- Take your antibiotic as instructed by your doctor or pharmacist.
- Finish your dosage, and take an antibiotic until all the medication is gone.
- Take an antibiotic only for the condition for which it is prescribed.
- Consult your clinician or pharmacist if you are unsure about certain antibiotics that may interact with food or other medications or may make you more sensitive to sunlight or cause dizziness.
- Alert your clinician or pharmacist to any new medical conditions that arise during your antibiotic treatment.
- Do not share antibiotics with friends or family, and do not take expired antibiotics.
- Discuss with your clinician about taking concurrent probiotics (good bacteria) while your child takes antibiotics for a presumed or laboratory-proven bacterial infection. There is good indication that probiotics may help preserve the healthy bacteria in you or your child’s body, and stave off side effects for your child.