Antibiotics: Risks and Complications

Antibiotics

What is Antibiotics?

Antibiotics, also known as antibacterials, are medications that destroy or slow down the growth of bacteria.

They include a range of powerful drugs and are used to treat diseases caused by bacteria.

Infections caused by viruses, such as colds, flu, most coughs, and sore throats cannot be treated with antibiotics.

When To Use Antibiotics

Antibiotics are specific for the type of bacteria being treated and, in general, cannot be interchanged from one infection to another. When antibiotics are used correctly, they are usually safe with few side effects.

However, as with most drugs, antibiotics can lead to side effects that may range from being a nuisance to serious or life-threatening. In infants and the elderly, in patients with kidney or liver disease, in pregnant or breastfeeding women, and in many other patient groups antibiotic doses may need to be adjusted based upon the specific characteristics of the patient, like kidney or liver function, weight, or age. Drug interactions can also be common with antibiotics. Health care providers are able to assess each patient individually to determine the correct antibiotic and dose.

When NOT To Use Antibiotics

Antibiotics are not the correct choice for all infections. For example, most sore throats, cough and colds, flu or acute sinusitis are viral in origin (not bacterial) and do not need an antibiotic. These viral infections are “self-limiting”, meaning that your own immune system will usually kick in and fight the virus off. In fact, using antibiotics for viral infections can increase the risk for antibiotic resistance, lower the options for future treatments if an antibiotic is needed, and put a patient at risk for side effects and extra cost due to unnecessary drug treatment.

Antibiotic resistant bacteria cannot be fully inhibited or killed by an antibiotic, even though the antibiotic may have worked effectively before the resistance occurred. Don’t share your antibiotic or take medicine that was prescribed for someone else, and don’t save an antibiotic to use the next time you get sick.

Flu Complications

When you have the flu, your body’s immune system may be weakened. The lungs become irritated and inflamed. Both make is easier for bacteria to invade your body. What kind of bacterial complications can develop?

♦  Pneumonia, infection of the lungs
♦  Bronchitis, infection of the airways that lead to the lungs
♦  Sinusitis, infection of the sinuses
♦  Ear infections, which are most common in children

The most worrying, and most common, is pneumonia. “Bacterial pneumonia is the most likely cause of death in older people with the flu,” says Christine Hay, MD, assistant professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “It can be a serious problem for young children with the flu as well.”

Who’s most at risk?

The odds that you’ll end up with a bacterial complication depend on several factors. If you’re a healthy young adult, the chances are low. But the flu and its complications are considered high risk for people who:

♦  Are pregnant during flu season
♦  Are over 50 years old
♦  Are under 2 years old
♦  Have a chronic lung disease such as asthma, bronchitis, or other conditions
♦  Have heart or kidney disease
♦  Have diabetes or another metabolic disorder
♦  Have severe anemia
♦  Have a suppressed immune system, either from a disease or its treatment
♦  Live in a nursing home or care facility

Always take the entire course of antibiotics as directed by your doctor. Even though you may feel better before your medicine is entirely gone, follow through and take the entire course. This is important for your healing. If an antibiotic is stopped in mid-course, bacteria may be partially treated and not completely killed. Bacteria may then become resistant to that antibiotic. Overuse of antibiotics has led to some bacteria mutating and becoming resistant to some antibiotics, which may then not work when really needed. For example, meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a bacterium that has become resistant to many different antibiotics and is difficult to treat.

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