We know that antibiotics are used for the treatment or prevention of some types of bacterial infections. Antibiotics are working by preventing bacteria from reproducing and spreading or killing bacteria. But antibiotics do not work for everything. If you want to use some kind of antibiotic, you should not use it without your doctor’s permission. You should know that antibiotics do not work for viral infections, such as flu and colds and the most coughs and sore throats. There are many mild bacterial infections which get better on their own without using antibiotics. If you or some family member takes antibiotics when you do not need them, then this puts you and your family member at a risk of a longer and more severe illness. The length of the treatment with antibiotics varies a lot. This depends on what kind of infection you have, how severe is and how quickly you will be better after starting treatment. The treatment can be:
- For just a few days, for example if you have “water” infection which is urinary tract infection
- For 1 – 2 weeks, for example pneumonia
- For a few months, for example bone infections
- For many months, for example acne
There are rare cases when someone is not able to take some type of antibiotic. If you have had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic in the past, then you may not be able to take antibiotic. Even if you have allergy to one antibiotic, your doctor will choose a different type of antibiotic which you will be able to take. If you are pregnant, then you should know that there are some antibiotics which you should not take but you doctor or health professional will advise on which antibiotic is suitable for you if you need it. Also if you are taking some medications, then you should avoid some antibiotics or the regular medication stopped whilst you take the antibiotic. When you are going to doctor, you need to tell him or her if you are using some medications so your doctor will know what kind of antibiotic can prescribe you. In many countries you cannot buy antibiotics on your own, so you need to go to doctor if you think that you need antibiotics for your condition.
Uses of antibiotics
We are using antibiotics to treat or prevent some types of bacterial infections. You should know that they are not effective against viral infections, such as flu or common cold. Antibiotics should be prescribed to treat these conditions:
- Antibiotics should be used for conditions which carry a risk of more serious complications, such as pneumonia or cellulitis
- Antibiotics should be used for conditions where evidences suggest that they can significantly speed up the recovery process, such as kidney infection
- Antibiotics should be used for conditions which are not especially serious, but they could spread to other people if they are not promptly treated, such as the sexually transmitted infection Chlamydia or the skin infection impetigo
- Antibiotics should be used for conditions that are not especially serious, but they are unlikely to clear up without the use of antibiotics, such as moderately severe acne
It is known that antibiotics are no longer routinely used to treat infections because:
- It is known that the more antibiotics are used to treat trivial conditions, the more likely they are to become ineffective for treating more serious conditions
- There are so many infections which are caused by viruses, so antibiotics are not effective
- Antibiotics are often unlikely to speed up the healing process and cause side effects
It is known that antibiotics are no longer routinely used as a treatment for sore throats, ear infections in children and chest infections. Doctors are recommending antibiotics for people who are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of infection, such as
- People with a weakened immune system – either as a side effect of certain treatments, such as chemotherapy or an underlying health condition such as HIV infection
- People who have to take insulin to control their diabetes
- People with heart failure
- Babies which are less than 72 hours old with a confirmed bacterial infection or a higher than average risk of developing one
- People aged over 75 years
Antibiotics to prevent infection
There are some cases when antibiotics are given as a precaution, rather than a treatment of infection. This condition is known as antibiotic prophylaxis which is normally recommended if you are having a surgery of certain part of your body which is increasing your risk of infection. Also it is recommended to people where the infection could lead to devastating effects. Antibiotics can be used if you are going to have:
- Surgery to remove the appendix
- Surgery to remove the gall bladder
- Pacemaker surgery
- Breast implant surgery
- Joint replacement surgery
- Some types of eye surgery, such as glaucoma surgery or cataract surgery
- Bites and wounds: The antibiotic prophylaxis is recommended for a wound which has high chances of becoming infected which could be an animal or human bite. For example, a wound which has come into contact with feces or soil.
Side effects of antibiotics
The most common side effects of antibiotics are affecting the digestive system. These side effects happen in around one in ten people. Here are side effects of antibiotics which affect the digestive system:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Bloating and indigestion
- Nausea (this is a feeling like you may vomit)
The mentioned side effects are usually mild and they will pass once you finish your course of treatment. If you experience other side effects which are different from the mentioned, then you need to talk with your doctor about the best way in which you can deal with them. There are very rare cases when people are allergic to antibiotics and they have died from a severe allergic reaction. It is known that antibiotics can kill the normal defense bacteria which live in the vagina and bowel. This will allow thrush or other bad bacteria to grow. You need to talk with your doctor if you have some of the following side effects:
- Being sick (vomiting)
- White patches on the tongue which are signs of oral thrush
- Vaginal itching or discharge which are signs of vaginal thrush
- Shortness of breath, hives, rash, swelling (of the tongue, face or lips) and fainting which are signs of an allergic reaction
- Severe watery diarrhea and abdominal cramps which are signs of a serious bacterial infection of the gut. This infection is known as Clostridium difficile infection.
It is known that there are some antibiotics can interact with certain medicines which you may take. This could lead to some reactions or it can reduce the effectiveness of your other treatment. Always tell your doctor if you are taking some types of medicines before he or she prescribe you some antibiotics.
- Antibiotic allergic reactions: It is known fact that around one in fifteen people have an allergic reaction to antibiotics, especially cephalosporins and penicillin. In the most cases, this allergic reaction which is caused by the antibiotic usage is mild to moderate and it can take the form of:
- Tightness in the throat which can cause breathing difficulties
- Raised and itchy skin rash (hives or urticaria)
The mentioned mild to moderate allergic reactions are usually successfully treated when patients are taking antihistamines. If you are concerned about your treatment and if your symptoms do not respond to the treatment, then you should talk with your doctor. There are rare cases when antibiotics can cause a severe and potentially life – threatening allergic reaction which is known as anaphylaxis. The initial symptoms of anaphylaxis are often the same as the previous mentioned symptoms and they can lead to:
- Falling unconsciousness
- A sharp and sudden drop in your blood pressure, which can make you feel light – headed and confused
- A sudden intense feeling of apprehension and fear
- There can be increased breathing difficulties caused by swelling and tightening of the neck
- A rapid heartbeat
The anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and it can be life – threatening condition if the prompt treatment is not given. This is a reason why you need to talk with your doctor as soon as possible.
- Tetracyclines and sensitivity to light: It is known that tetracyclines can make your skin sensitive to sunlight, such as sunbeds and lamps. You need to avoid prolonged exposure to bright light while you are taking these drugs.
If you suspect that you are experiencing some side effects from the usage of antibiotics, then you need to talk with your doctor as soon as possible.