An antibiotic is a type of antimicrobial substance active against bacteria. It is the most important type of antibacterial agent for fighting bacterial infections. Antibiotics are widely used in the treatment and prevention of such infections. Antibiotics fight bacterial infections either by killing bacteria or slowing and suspending its growth. They do this by: attacking the wall or coating surrounding bacteria or interfering with bacteria reproduction.
The first modern-day antibiotic was used in 1936. Before antibiotics, 30 percent of all deaths were caused by bacterial infections. Thanks to antibiotics, previously fatal infections are curable. Today, antibiotics are still powerful, life-saving medications for people with certain serious infections. They can also prevent less-serious infections from becoming serious. Most antibiotics are only available with a prescription from your doctor. Some antibiotic creams and ointments are available over the counter.
What are the 10 types of antibiotics?
List of Antibiotic Classes (Types) of Antibiotics are:
Top 10 List of Common Infections Treated with Antibiotics
- Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
- Otitis Media (Ear Infection)
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD’s)
- Skin or Soft Tissue Infection
- Streptococcal Pharyngitis (Strep Throat)
- Traveler’s diarrhea
- Upper Respiratory Tract Infection
- Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Top 10 List of Generic Antibiotics
- sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim
- amoxicillin and clavulanate
When To Use Antibiotics
Antibiotics are specific for the type of bacteria being treated and, in general, cannot be interchanged from one infection to another. When antibiotics are used correctly, they are usually safe with few side effects.
However, as with most drugs, antibiotics can lead to side effects that may range from being a nuisance to serious or life-threatening. In infants and the elderly, in patients with kidney or liver disease, in pregnant or breastfeeding women, and in many other patient groups antibiotic doses may need to be adjusted based upon the specific characteristics of the patient, like kidney or liver function, weight or age. Drug interactions can also be common with antibiotics. Health care providers are able to assess each patient individually to determine the correct antibiotic and dose.
When NOT To Use Antibiotics
Antibiotics are not the correct choice for all infections. For example, most sore throats, cough and colds, flu or acute sinusitis are viral in origin (not bacterial) and do not need an antibiotic. These viral infections are “self-limiting”, meaning that your own immune system will usually kick in and fight the virus off. In fact, using antibiotics for viral infections can increase the risk for antibiotic resistance, lower the options for future treatments if an antibiotic is needed, and put a patient at risk for side effects and extra cost due to unnecessary drug treatment.
What does antibiotics do to your body?
Antibiotics help stop infections caused by bacteria. They do this by killing the bacteria or by keeping them from copying themselves or reproducing. The word antibiotic means “against life.” Any drug that kills germs in your body is technically an antibiotic.
What are the most common side effects of antibiotics?
All medications have side effects, including antibiotics. Antibiotics are medications that treat infections by killing bacteria or other organisms or slowing their growth. An antibiotic side effect occurs as an unwanted reaction that occurs in addition to the desirable therapeutic action of the antibiotic you are taking. Side effects of antibiotics can range from mild allergic reactions to severe and debilitating adverse events. When used appropriately, most antibiotics are relatively safe with few side effects. However, some side effects may interfere with your ability to finish the medication. In these cases, you should contact your doctor.
Common side effects with antibiotics include:
- Mild skin rash or other allergic reactions
- Soft stools, short-term diarrhea
- Upset stomach, nausea
- Loss of appetite
- Fungal (yeast) vaginal infections or oral thrush
More severe antibiotic side effects include:
- Severe allergic reaction that results in difficulty breathing, facial swelling (lips, tongue, throat, face)
- Severe watery or bloody diarrhea; Clostridium difficile infection
- Stomach cramps
- Yeast infections in the mouth or vagina (white discharge and severe itching in the vagina or mouth sores or white patches in your mouth or on your tongue)
These side effects are extremely variable; however, there are some common side effects that may occur within larger antibiotic drug classes. Long term side effects of antibiotics can occur, but are infrequent.
When prescribed appropriately and taken correctly, antibiotics can be very effective. They can shorten the time you are sick and keep the disease from spreading to others. Perhaps because they seem so effective, doctors may have a tendency to prescribe them too often, even when there is not anything for them to treat and you would have gotten better just as quickly without them. Sometimes this is done in the hopes of preventing bacterial infection. However, over time, many bacteria adapt to resist antibiotics, making these medications less effective or unable to work at all. This occurs even in bacteria not responsible for the illness that just live in your body.
Antibiotic resistance is harmful. As more antibiotics are introduced into our environment, by either over-prescribing or entering our food chain through their use in the dairy, poultry, and livestock industries, more strains of bacteria have the potential to become resistant. Examples of bacterial strains that are already resistant to antibiotics include:
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)—These dangerous bacteria can cause infections in areas such as the lungs, skin, blood and bones.
Multi-drug resistant Klebsiella—These bacteria can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Multi-drug resistant Escherichia coli—These bacteria can cause digestive system infections, bloodstream infections and UTIs.
Some bacteria may be resistant to only one antibiotic, while others are resistant to a range of antibiotics. Bacteria can pass this ability to resist multiple antibiotics on to other bacteria, even without the presence of antibiotics.
These multidrug-resistant bacteria create a challenge for doctors. Patients with conditions caused by these types of bacteria not only endure longer hospital stays, but they may also have to take many drugs in hopes that one of the medications or the combination of medications will work. Often these drugs can be toxic and ineffective. Patients infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria are more likely to die from their illnesses.
The most important cause of antibiotic resistance is inappropriate use or overuse of antibiotics. As much as 30 percent of antibiotic use is thought to be unnecessary. This is because antibiotics are often prescribed when they aren’t needed.
Several important steps can be taken to decrease inappropriate antibiotic use:
- Take antibiotics only for bacterial infections. Don’t use antibiotics for conditions caused by viruses such as the common cold, flu, cough, or sore throat.
- Take antibiotics as directed by your healthcare provider. Using the wrong dose, skipping doses, or taking it longer or shorter than directed might contribute to bacteria resistance. Even if you feel better after a few days, talk with your healthcare provider before discontinuing an antibiotic.
- Take the right antibiotic. Using the wrong antibiotic for an infection might lead to resistance. Don’t take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. Also, don’t take antibiotics left over from a previous treatment. Your healthcare provider will be able to select the most appropriate antibiotic for your specific type of infection.