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21 Facts to Know About Antibiotics

Updated on July 13, 2008

Antibiotics play a very important role of modern medicine. These medications are used to fight many infections caused by bacteria. I hope, the following facts about antibiotics will help you understand how these drugs work, their possible side effects and the importance of taking antibiotics as directed by your doctor.

  1. Antibiotics belong to a class of drugs called Antimicrobials. Other drugs in this group include antifungals, antiprotozoals and antivirals.

  2. Antibiotics are medicines that kill bacteria. These drugs do not work on viruses. A bacterium is a living, reproducing lifeform. A virus is just a piece of DNA (or RNA). A virus injects its DNA into a living cell and has that cell reproduce more of the viral DNA. With a virus there is nothing to "kill," so antibiotics don't work on it.
  3. There are many types of antibiotics. Each works a little differently and acts on different types of bacteria. Some antibiotics are effective against only certain types of bacteria; others can effectively fight a wide range of bacteria.
  4. While the use of antibiotics did not begin in the 20th century, early folk medicine included the use of mouldy foods or soil for infections. In ancient Egypt, for example, infections were treated with mouldy bread.
  5. When penicillin was invented it was hailed as a "wonder drug". Before its arrival, pneumonia and post-operative infections killed one in three of those who got them - babies and the elderly were particularly vulnerable.
  6. A broad spectrum antibiotic is one that can kill many different types of bacteria. A broad spectrum antibiotic is useful for treating infections that might be caused by many different types of bacteria such as ear infections. A narrow spectrum antibiotic is one that kills only a small variety of germs.
  7. Antibiotics must be taken for the full amount of time prescribed by your doctor. Many people stop taking antibiotics for their condition as soon as the condition seems to disappear. If you don't finish taking the antibiotic, and the disease builds back up in your system, it will be much harder to diagnose and cure. Antibiotics generally kill off the weak bacteria first. The tougher ones are more likely to die off with extra pummelling. That is why there is usually a ten day course to be followed. When the course is stopped early, the few and the strong multiply. It's the stronger variety that has been selected to continue on and make the rest of us miserable. What we have here is evolution on a microbial scale with an extra boost from antibiotic misuse.
  8. There are two major drawbacks of antibiotics:

    - Bacterial resistance

    - Harmful side effects
  9. Bacteria may be naturally resistant to different classes of antibiotics or may acquire resistance from other bacteria through exchange of resistant genes.
  10. Antibiotics generally are safe. The most common side effects of antibiotics include stomach upset, nausea, diarrhea, and an increased sensitivity to sunlight (common for doxycycline, minocycline and fluoroquinolones). Although most side-effects may be mild in appearance, some may be severe like allergic reactions and it may even be life-threatening allergic reactions. Should you experience any unexpected reaction to an antibiotic you use for the first time, immediately consult with your health professional.
  11. Antibiotics also kill or inhibit the growth of the normal or good bacterial flora on our skin or mucous membrane. These naturally occurring good bacteria are very essential for our body. The use of antibiotic causes the good bacteria to be replaced by the bacteria that can cause diarrhea and yeast infections.
  12. Any antibiotic can suppress the healthy bacteria in your colon and cause antibiotic-associated colitis (also called pseudomembranous colitis, or Clostridium difficile colitis). Usually this problem surfaces when the newer, more powerful antibiotics are prescribed, or when multiple antibiotics are used for serious infections. The following drugs have been implicated in most cases: clindamycin, lincomycin, ampicillin, cephalosporins. The aminoglycosides (amikacin, gentamicin), erythromycin, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, and the newer fluoroquinolones (ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin) seem less likely to be the cause.
  13. Antibiotic associated diarrhea can occur within two days of completing a course of antibiotics or even up to six weeks later. Even the most gentle antibiotics, given for a short period of time, can occasionally lead to this problem. Therefore, if you have new symptoms of diarrhea, it is important that you make your doctor aware of any antibiotics you may have taken in the last several months.
  14. Yeast Overgrowth. One of the most common side effects of antibiotics is yeast overgrowth. Women who use antibiotics often develop bowel and vaginal yeast infections. Children treated repeatedly with antibiotics for ear infections often develop yeast and fungal infections of the middle ear.
  15. Antibiotics can, in some cases, hinder the immune response. For example, children given amoxicillin for chronic earaches suffer two to six times the rate of recurrent middle ear effusion than children who took a placebo. According to Carol Jessop, MD, Clinical Professor at the University of California at San Francisco, 80% of her patients who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome (or chronic fatigue immunodeficiency syndrome) had a history of recurrent antibiotics treatment as a child, adolescent or adult.
  16. Antibiotics will not cure viral illnesses, such as:

    - Colds or flu

    - Most coughs and bronchitis

    - Sore throats not caused by strep

    - Runny noses

    - Stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis)

    - Some ear infections
  17. When are antibiotics necessary? Here are a few examples:

    - Ear infections - there are several types; many need antibiotics, but some do not.

    - Sinus infections - most children with thick or green mucus do not have sinus infections. Antibiotics are needed for some long-lasting or severe cases.

    - Strep throat - this condition must be diagnosed by a laboratory test.

    - Urinary tract infections

    - Many wound and skin infections
  18. Sometimes it is very hard to tell when an illness is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. A test called a culture should be done to determine which bacteria, if any, are responsible for your illness. Without a culture, your health care provider must choose an antibiotic based on an educated guess of what bacteria are most likely to be causing your illness. Sometimes, those educated guesses are wrong.
  19. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in a way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of antibiotics. These resistant bacteria survive and multiply - causing more harm, such as a longer illness, more doctor visits, and a need for more expensive and toxic antibiotics.
  20. Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant germs may be left to grow and multiply. Repeated and improper uses of antibiotics are primary causes of the increase in drug-resistant bacteria.
  21. While experts are working to develop new antibiotics and other treatments to keep pace with antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, infectious organisms adapt quickly. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria will continue to be a global health concern - and using antibiotics wisely is an important part of preventing their spread.


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    • profile image

      jake hawkins 

      4 years ago

      this is very helpful

    • fucsia profile image


      10 years ago

      Very informative Hub. You have touched all the points relative to an antibiotics therapy, I think that this Hub can be useful to those who are confused on their use. Great work! Voted Up and Useful.

    • Annette Rozen profile image

      Ann Martin 

      12 years ago

      great informative hub. Its a shame that most of up pop these pills so easily without knowing half the facts we should know before doing so, At different points in my life Ive been on a number of the antibiotics you listed, and at the time, i wasn't warned of some of the side effects that may occur. Now, if i take antibiotics, i also make sure to take probiotic supplements with them

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Thanks for giving the FULL story. So often in our hurried existence we don't take the time to fully research important stuff. Great hub, do it again..


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