Every year over 2 million Americans are infected with a bacteria that cannot be treated with antibiotics and at least 23,000 are killed.
Taking an antibiotic seems like no big deal, but is it? Antibiotics are not as harmless as they might seem. Unnecessary use of antibiotics is one of the biggest threats to public health.
Keep reading for more information about the pros and cons of antibiotics.
What Are Antibiotics?
Antibiotics are a type of medicine developed in the 1940s that work to treat infections caused by bacteria. There are more than 100 types of antibiotics that work to destroy different bacteria.
Antibiotics can work by both killing bacteria and by stopping them from reproducing. Antibiotics do not treat viral infections like colds and cases of flu.
The problem with antibiotics is that we take them all too casually. Antibiotics have side effects, both on an individual and a global scale.
Most of the concern about taking antibiotics comes from the problem of antibiotic resistance. As we, as a population, continue to use antibiotics, bacteria are evolving and becoming resistant to our best lines of defense.
This would’ve happened eventually because of the nature of bacteria, but antibiotic overuse has accelerated the problem. The bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics are called superbugs.
Alternatives to antibiotics are not often readily available, so the threat of antibiotic resistance is something to be concerned about.
Antibiotic resistance is becoming an increasingly threatening problem because of changes in the population and cultural beliefs about the bacteria-fighting medicines.
Increasingly large populations and older generations living longer mean more people are taking antibiotics. Antibiotics are often our first line of defense in emergency medical treatment.
Infection prevention techniques have revolutionized modern medicine, but we need to be able to continue to use antibiotics to treat infections that do occur. As a culture, we are failing to realize the seriousness our of actions when it comes to antibiotic overuse.
For example, antibiotic use in animals is widespread and mostly unnecessary. This overuse affects us and the rest of the food chain.
Changing Your Perspective
As individuals, many of us mistakenly believe that antibiotics are necessary to improve medical conditions that they will ultimately have no effect on.
Patients frequently request specific antibiotics from their doctor that they do not need and will not benefit from. Often, their symptoms stem from a viral infection, which antibacterial medications cannot touch.
Patients are notorious for failing to take antibiotics as prescribed. It is essential when taking antibiotics to take the complete regimen, even if you experience symptom relief. Failing to finish a course of antibiotics allows the bacteria to strengthen itself against the medicine and leads to the creation of these so-called superbugs.
So why do doctors continue to prescribe unnecessary antibiotics? Perhaps they don’t realize the seriousness of the problem. Doctors want to help their sick patients, who are demanding the medication.
Furthermore, there is no real incentive for pharmaceutical companies and drug manufacturers to develop alternatives.
Pros and Cons of Antibiotics
The pros of antibiotics are pretty obvious. Antibiotics have saved countless lives and allowed for a reduction in the spread of infection.
Without antibiotics, we would be susceptible to many preventable illnesses and deaths. It’s hard to imagine living in a world without antibiotics.
Unfortunately, our appreciation of antibiotics has gone too far and we have failed to realize that they do have some cons.
Patients take antibiotics without hesitation and believe that there are no risks. The attitude of many patients when it comes to antibiotics is that they are willing to take them whether or not they even receive any benefits.
In addition to the global risk of promoting the development of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, antibiotics carry the risk of side effects for the individual patient as well.
It’s important to remember that antibiotics work by either killing or inhibiting the production of bacteria. Unfortunately, this usually means that good bacteria get caught in the crossfire. Antibiotics tend to wipe out the good bacteria that your body needs to protect you.
Minor side effects that are commonly experienced by patients taking antibiotics include mild rashes and skin irritation as well as diarrhea. Diarrhea is caused by the depletion of your good intestinal flora as a side effect of killing the bad bacteria.
We are starting to learn just how important good intestinal bacteria is for other body functions including metabolism, heart health, and immune system function. Taking probiotics and eating yogurt can help to combat this side effect.
On the more serious side, antibiotics carry the risk of life-threatening allergic reactions.
There is a long list of side effects that are serious but not usually life-threatening that antibiotic users may experience. Besides causing discomfort, side effects can lead to missed time from school or work and additional medical costs to treat the new symptoms.
A specific type of antibiotic called fluoroquinolones is of unique concern due to the seriousness of the side effect it can cause.
These antibiotics have received a black-box warning from the FDA because of the potential of the medication to block neuromuscular activity.
Some fluoroquinolones have even been pulled from the market due to the severity of the side effects they can cause. The FDA said the risk of the severe side effects was “unjustifiable.”
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, even though there are pros and cons of antibiotics, they are an essential part of modern medicine that work to save lives.
Without antibiotics, we would revert back to a time where we died of common ailments. The decision of whether or not to take antibiotics is one best left to you and your doctor.
All medications have pros and cons and antibiotics are no different. As a patient, you can be part of the effort to preserve the efficacy of antibiotics by using them responsibly and only when needed.
For more health tips, check out our blog.