Improper use of antibiotics is a problem on many levels. It’s easy to get the wrong prescription for an illness if it is improperly diagnosed or if the healthcare provider is trying to keep a patient happy. By taking an antibiotic that isn’t necessary, we increase the problem of Superbugs and even put our own health at risk.
Risks of improper use of antibiotics
Not only is an antibiotic NOT needed for viral illnesses, but taking them when not needed can increase problems.
Risks of antibiotics involve diarrhea, yeast infections, allergic reactions, and more.
Every time we take an antibiotic, we assume the risks associated with the antibiotic. If we have a significant bacterial infection, the risk is warranted. But if we have an infection that the antibiotic will not kill, it is an unnecessary risk.
Most of us have heard of superbugs, but there is a misconception about how they work.
Using antibiotics inappropriately can allow bacteria to learn to evade the antibiotic, which makes it ineffective. This means that new antibiotics need to be used to treat infections, which increases the time of illness, the cost of treatment, and the risk of untreatable illnesses. Some bacteria develop resistance to all known treatments, which can lead to death.
“The Last time amoxicillin didn’t work and we had to use something else. Can we use that one again?”
A lot of parents think that if one antibiotic failed with a previous infection, they need a different one. This is not true.
The bacteria develop resistance to an antibiotic. Bacteria can share their genetic material with other bacteria, leading to the quick spread of resistance.
Even someone who has never used an antibiotic can be infected with a resistant bacteria, which makes it harder to treat their infection.
Unfortunately, without a bacterial culture it is impossible to know what the best antibiotic is for any specific infection. We use the type of infection and the bacterial resistance pattern of the area to make the best choice.
It’s not the person that becomes immune to an antibiotic
Very often parents request a different antibiotic because “amoxicillin never works for my family.”
A person does not become immune to a type of antibiotic.
Start with an antibiotic that has a narrow coverage usually
A first line antibiotic is an antibiotic that covers the type of infection that is present, but isn’t so broad that it includes more bacteria than needed. It can also be called narrow-spectrum.
One infection with a superbug might require a strong antibiotic, but the next bacterial infection in the same person might respond well to a first-line treatment, such as amoxicillin.
It’s always wise to start with the first line antibiotic for the type of infection unless a person’s allergic to that antibiotic. It doesn’t matter if it worked the last time or not.
Broad spectrum antibiotics are needed for some serious infections
Remember that broad-spectrum antibiotics that have great killing power can increase the risk of killing the good bacteria that your body needs.
If you have a serious infection, they might be needed. In this case the benefit outweighs the risk.
Each new infection is a new bacteria.
The type of infection will determine the most likely bacteria. A culture from the infection (if possible) will specify exactly what bacteria is the cause and which antibiotics will work.
First line antibiotics are chosen based on type of infection as well as local resistance patterns. Upper respiratory tract bacterial infections tend to use different antibiotics than urinary tract infections or skin infections because different bacteria cause different types of infections.
Most people can tolerate antibiotics, but allergic reactions can be serious. It’s not worth the risk if the antibiotic isn’t needed in the first place.
Talk to your doctor about any drug allergies you suspect your child has and why.
Many kids will get loose stools when they take antibiotics.
Probiotics can help re-establish a healthy amount of good bacteria in the gut and slow the diarrhea most of the time.
Unfortunately there is a type of bacteria commonly called C. diff that can overpopulate after antibiotics and cause severe diarrhea. C. diff causes thousands of deaths every year in adults and children, most often following antibiotic use.
If diarrhea develops during or after antibiotic use, talk to your doctor’s office during regular office hours for advice. If there are signs of dehydration, severe pain, blood in stools, or other concerns you should have your child seen quickly.
Antibiotics kill not only the bacteria causing an infection, but also the “good” bacteria (gut flora) in our bodies.
Our bodies are a habitat for healthy bacteria and yeast. I know this seems unnatural or unhealthy to many people, but we need these bacteria and yeast in a healthy balance.
Gut flora is made of many types of healthy bacteria. These bacteria help us with many functions, such as digestion and weight regulation. Good bacteria make products that lower inflammation in the intestines. They also make neurotransmitters which affect our mood.
Different “good” bacteria can be affected depending on which antibiotic is used.
As mentioned above, our bodies are an ecosystem of bacteria and yeast. When bacteria are killed off with an antibiotic, it throws off the balance and allows the yeast to overgrow.
Yeast keeps the digestive system healthy and helps our immune system. It can help our body absorb vitamins and minerals from food. Despite what you read online, yeast are very beneficial to us – as long as they remain in healthy balance.
There are a lot of people selling products to treat overgrowth of yeast, which is said to cause all kinds of problems. These types of overgrowth are not recognized as true overgrowth by most physicians, but there are true yeast infections.
Yeast can cause infections of your skin (ringworm), feet (athlete’s foot), mouth (thrush), and penis or vagina (yeast infection). At risk people can develop blood infections with yeast. These can be life threatening. Serious yeast infections tend to occur in diabetics, immunocompromised people and those who were treated with antibiotics.
If you suspect a yeast infection, talk to your physician.
Risk vs benefit
When antibiotics are needed to fight a bacterial infection, it is worth the risk of taking the antibiotic.
The balance flips if you have a common cold – don’t take the risk for something that isn’t needed or beneficial.
Antibiotics do not and will not help treat a cold. Ever.
Don’t try to use an antibiotic to prevent a cold from developing into something else.
Improper use of an antibiotic simply has too many risks and will not help, so there is no benefit.
Prevention is key!
If you’re not sick, you don’t even think about looking for an easy fix for a viral illness.
Use proper handwashing, vaccinate against vaccine preventable diseases, and stay home when sick!