The Good, the Bad and the Bacteria
Antibiotics. They are medications that destroy or slow down the growth of bacteria in humans and animals. We are surrounded by bacteria but most bacteria is harmless and can even be helpful, however, some bacteria can cause infections. Some people want to use antibiotics whenever they are not feeling well thinking it may help them get better. But when is it appropriate to use antibiotics and when should you stay away from them?
Taking antibiotics when they are not needed can harm you more than it can help. Not only do antibiotics have side effects including rashes, dizziness, various stomach issues, or yeast infections, they can also cause antibiotic resistance. According to the CDC, at least 2 million people in the U.S. contract an antibiotic resistant infection, and at least 23,000 people die from it each year.
So what exactly is antibiotic resistance?
This does not mean that your body is becoming resistant to antibiotics. This is when foreign bacteria no longer respond to the medication designed to combat them. Anytime antibiotics are used, there is a potential that they can cause antibiotic resistance. When this happens this can cause the bad bacteria to multiply making it harder to treat. MRSA or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium that causes infections in different parts of the body. It has become resistant to commonly used antibiotics and thus is tougher to treat than most strains of staphylococcus aureus.
When should I take antibiotics?
Antibiotics are needed for certain infections caused by bacteria. However, not all bacterial infections need antibiotics. A common misconception about antibiotics is that you will need them for bronchitis, sinus infections (especially if your mucus is green or yellow) and even some ear infections. In reality, antibiotics won’t cure these common ailments and put you at risk for getting resistant bacteria in the future. It’s better to avoid antibiotics and let them heal over time. Always consult with your primary care provider before making any health decisions.
What if I have a virus?
If someone has a virus, like the cold, flu or a runny nose, antibiotics won’t help. Viruses do not respond to antibiotics because viruses and bacteria have different mechanisms and machinery to survive and produce. The only way to combat these is to treat the symptoms with over the counter medicine, getting lots of rest and drinking plenty of water.
How can I prevent getting sick?
- Washing your hands regularly
- Making sure you and your family are up to date on vaccinations
- Don’t smoke and try to avoid secondhand smoke and other chemicals
- Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing
- If possible, keep your distance from others who are sick
Antibiotics are an important part of healing process (when they are needed). It’s important to remember that antibiotics are not always needed and can cause more damage if not utilized properly. Visit the CDC website and AFM’s Antibiotic Information Sheet for more information.