An antibiotic is a type of antimicrobial substance active against bacteria. It is the most important type of antibacterial agent for fighting bacterial infections, and antibiotic medications are widely used in the treatment and prevention of such infections. They may either kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria.
Before scientists first discovered antibiotics in the 1920s, many people died from minor bacterial infections, like strep throat. Surgery was riskier, too. But after antibiotics became available in the 1940s, life expectancy increased, surgeries got safer, and people could survive what used to be deadly infections.
What antibiotics can and cannot do
Most bacteria that live in your body are harmless. Some are even helpful. Still, bacteria can infect almost any organ. Fortunately, antibiotics can usually help.
These are the types of infections that can be treated with antibiotics:
- Some ear and sinus infections
- Dental infections
- Skin infections
- Meningitis (swelling of the brain and spinal cord)
- Strep throat
- Bladder and kidney infections
- Bacterial pneumonias
- Whooping cough
Only bacterial infections can be killed with antibiotics. The common cold, flu, most coughs, some bronchitis infections, most sore throats, and the stomach flu are all caused by viruses. Antibiotics won’t work to treat them. Your doctor will tell you either to wait these illnesses out or prescribe antiviral drugs to help you get rid of them.
How long does it take for antibiotics to work?
Antibiotics start to work immediately after you start taking them. However, you might not feel better for two to three days after commencement of treatment. How quickly you get better after antibiotic treatment depends on the type of antibiotic and the nature of infection you are treating.
Some Disease and Duration of Antibiotics Administration
|DISEASE||LONGER TREATMENT (DAYS)||EQUALLY EFFECTIVE SHORTER TREATMENT (DAYS)|
|Bronchitis in people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)||7 or more||5 or fewer|
|Bacterial sinus infection||10||5|
|Cellulitis (skin infection)||10||5 to 6|
|Chronic bone infection||84||42|
|Kidney infection||10 to 14||5 to 7|
|Pneumonia acquired in the hospital||10 to 15||8 or fewer|
|Pneumonia acquired outside the hospital||10 to 14||3 to 5|
“The New Antibiotic Mantra: “Shorter is Better,” JAMA Internal Medicine, July 25, 2016.
How can you make antibiotics work faster?
According to a new study, a spoonful of sugar not only makes medicine easier to swallow, it also might increase its potency. The results show sugar can make certain antibiotics more effective at wiping out bacterial infections. The sugar tricks bacteria that would otherwise play dead into consuming the antibiotic and therefore end up really dead.
Adding sugar to medication may augment treatment for some chronic bacterial infections, including staph and tuberculosis, the researchers say.
What drugs interact with antibiotics?
Antibiotics may have interactions with other prescription and nonprescription medications. For example, clarithromycin (Biaxin, an antibiotic) should not be taken with metoclopramide (Reglan, a digestive system drug). Be sure a doctor and pharmacist know about all the other medications a person is taking while on antibiotics.
What is antibiotic resistance? am I at risk?
One of the foremost concerns in modern medicine is antibiotic resistance. Simply put, if an antibiotic is used long enough, bacteria will emerge that cannot be killed by that antibiotic. This is known as antibiotic resistance. Infections exist today that are caused by bacteria resistant to some antibiotics. The existence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria creates the danger of life-threatening infections that don’t respond to antibiotics.
There are several reasons for the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. One of the most important is antibiotic overuse. This includes the common practice of prescribing antibiotics for the common cold or flu. Even though antibiotics do not affect viruses, many people expect to get a prescription for antibiotics when they visit their doctor. Although the common cold is uncomfortable, antibiotics do not cure it, nor change its course. Each person can help reduce the development of resistant bacteria by not asking for antibiotics for a common cold or flu.