Fitness Facts: The truth about antibiotics
By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
When are antibiotics necessary and when are they harmful?
Why do some healthcare providers prescribe them when others will not?
Antibiotics have been extremely effective and often lifesaving in the treatment of some infectious diseases, but they don’t cure all illnesses and can sometimes even cause significant medical problems. Therefore, it is important that antibiotics are administered appropriately.
Antibiotics typically are effective against bacteria but not against viruses. Therefore, antibiotics do not help in viral illnesses such as mononucleosis, flu and colds. Studies have shown that the majority of infectious diseases in college-age patients are viral rather than bacterial infections. Even bronchitis is most commonly viral in this age group. (In practice, antibiotics are often used to treat these infections because differentiating between bacterial and viral infections is difficult.) Although researchers are attempting to develop new categories of drugs to combat viral diseases, few drugs are currently available.
Healthcare providers use clinical history, examination and laboratory tests to distinguish between viral and bacterial infections. Patients with bacterial infections generally appear more acutely ill, often displaying shaking, chills and high fever, and their white blood cell counts are high. Clinicians may use cultures from the throat, sputum, urine, blood or wound to identify the bacteria along with its antibiotic sensitivity. This information helps the clinician choose an antibiotic that will be effective.
You may think taking antibiotics is without risk but there are several very important risks:
- Allergic reactions: You can develop an allergy at any time, even if you have safely used the antibiotic in the past. Prior use is not a guarantee that a person will not develop an allergic response. Most allergic reactions to antibiotics are relatively minor skin reactions. However, occasionally life-threatening allergic reactions occur, with swelling of the throat and difficulty breathing.
- Impact on the body’s “good bacteria”: Antibiotics cannot distinguish between normal body bacteria and disease-causing bacteria. The result is often a disturbance in the natural balance of organisms, which may lead to severe diarrhea or, more commonly, yeast vaginitis in women. Other complications may arise from the side effects of certain antibiotics, such as severe gastrointestinal upset, sun sensitivity and interactions with other medications. Another potential disease that can be acquired by the overgrowth of bad bacteria is c.difficule diarrhea, which can be very difficult to treat.
One of the most important reasons to minimize the use of antibiotics is bacterial resistance.
Many people mistakenly believe that people can “get used to” an antibiotic. This is not the case, but bacteria can develop resistance to an antibiotic. The more antibiotics are used, the more resistance is evident. Some bacteria are resistant to all known antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance has become a major concern in the U.S., as well as in certain developing countries where antibiotics are available without prescription. In countries where antibiotic use is limited, bacteria have become more sensitive to antibiotic.
If you develop bacterial resistance, it may be difficult to treat even a simple infection in the future.
Tips for antibiotic use:
- Take your antibiotic as prescribed by your healthcare provider
- Take the antibiotic until the prescription is completely finished
- Do not take antibiotics from a friend or family member
- Do not take expired antibiotics
- Let your healthcare provider know if you experience a side effect or change in condition while taking the antibiotic.
For more information on this topic see what the CDC has to say by clicking here.
Be antibiotics aware!