Antibiotics, the ‘cure all drug’. Or is it? Today it is a household name. Everybody is aware of this class of drug and we all have used them at some point in time. Even a vigorous, healthy individual can’t claim that he or she hasn’t taken an antibiotic sometime in their lives. But what do you really know about antibiotics?
Antibiotics are necessary but their excessive and non-recommended use can be harmful. In this article, we will discuss the different aspects associated with the use of this wonder drug. Let’s start with a simple and precise definition of the term antibiotic.
What are Antibiotics?
Antibiotic is a generic term used for a wide variety of antibacterial medications, although Amoxicillian is probably the most widely known. These drugs are prescribed and used to treat the symptoms of diseases that occur due to bacterial infections, but they remain ineffective against diseases initiated by viruses.
What is the difference between bacterial and viral infections?
Both are living organisms, called microbes and both can cause diseases, although viruses are more known to do so. Viruses are much smaller than bacteria and cannot live without attaching to a host (human, animal, insect, etc.).
With that said, the most important distinction between the two is that antibiotics will not be effective against viruses; henceforth, other means of medical attention is necessary if you have a viral infection. Your physician will make the final decision as to what you are infected with and most likely, it will be after a blood or urine test. You can learn more about the distinction between viruses and bacteria here.
Overuse and Antibiotic Resistance
Even in our healthy state of being, we get attacked by bacteria all the time. This detrimental bacterial activity is taken care of by the white cells of the immune system. But in some cases, the bacteria can expand to an extent where the immune system has difficulty fighting alone. In such cases, antibiotics can assist the body’s natural defense mechanisms to fight these bacterial invaders. But how much antibiotic medicine should you take?
As one wise man once said, “Too much of anything is not good for you”. And subsequently, even excessive use of these beneficial products is not considered healthy.
Over the years, antibiotics have been used extensively for even minor bacterial infections. People have become self-experts in the use of these drugs. Some stores sell antibiotic medicines without prescriptions. Even physicians dash out antibiotic prescriptions without much consideration. Consequently, this high usage has resulted in some bacteria becoming more resistant.
A report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is very eye-opening in connection with the overuse of antibiotics. According to the report, in 2015 alone, around 270 million prescriptions were doled out from different outpatient establishments. Among this number of prescriptions, 30% were unnecessary. That means around 80 to 90 million prescriptions shouldn’t have been dispensed.
Downsides of Antibiotic Resistance
All this unneeded use of antibiotics leads to the development of increased bacterial resistance. Antibiotic resistance is not a good thing and can culminate into many problems:
- With increased antibiotic resistance in the body, many prescribed medicines fail to work against a disease
- Disease can prolong in the presence of antibiotic resistance because bacteria are stronger than ever
Both of the above-mentioned complications result in more visits to a physician. Through all of this, you have to continually suffer from the effects of the disease and have to spend more on your healthcare treatments.
Side Effects of Using Antibiotics
Aside from the major issuer of bacterial resistance, excessive use of antibiotics is also bad for many of its side effects. A constant feeling of sickness, disruption of the digestive system and fungal infections are some common side effects associated with its use.
In rare cases, blood clot irregularities, stone formation and increased skin sensitivity also occur as the side effects of administering too much of this drug continues.
Antibiotics can also provoke allergic reactions in individuals with some peculiar health conditions. These reactions are demonstrated by swellings, difficult breathing and rashes. Patients with reduced renal and liver activity often experience allergies with the use of antibiotics. Pregnancy and breastfeeding can also make expectant mothers more vulnerable to such allergies.
Sensible Use of Antibiotics
Antibiotics were invented with the intention of curing diseases. Although for these drugs, in general, a couple of pointers can be stated here (but consult your physician if you are unsure):
- Complete the entire course of antibiotics administration as prescribed by your physician. Leaving it in the middle as the symptoms disappear is not a good habit because it can make the remaining bacteria resistant to the drug which can lead to the relapse of the condition.
- Follow the exact instructions of consuming antibiotics. Some have to be ingested after meals while others have to be administered with an empty stomach.
Regardless of the possible side effects of antibiotics, they are still the top choice in fighting bacterial infections and diseases and complying with the instructions is important to increase the effectiveness.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle where a strong immune system can naturally take care of most of the bacterial invasions. When it comes to antibiotics, the main idea is to avoid them if you can by keeping yourself healthy. This, in turn, will help to reduce the risk of building drug-resistant strains of bacteria.
Start with washing your hands frequently. As per the CDC, “Reducing the number of these infections by washing hands frequently helps prevent the overuse of antibiotics”. But don’t just stop there. Have you walked your 10,000 steps today? If not, what are you waiting for? Exercise can play a major role in keeping yourself healthy. Additionally, look into taking the vitamins that help build a strong immune system and don’t forget to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C is well known for helping to maintain a healthy immune system.
Most importantly, if you do have to take antibiotics, make sure you have consulted with your doctor first and follow all instructions.