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Antibiotics. What Are They and How They Work?

Antibiotics are drugs targeted at preventing and resolving infections provoked by different types of bacteria. They stop the growth or kill pathogenic cells, speeding up the recovery.

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Main Things to Know about Antibiotics

Every day millions of people worldwide take one of the hundred antibiotics that are currently known to science. Since 1928 when penicillin was discovered, these medicines save lives daily. Why are they so important to people? Let’s try to figure it out together.

What Are Antibiotics?

Antibiotics can be defined as antimicrobial agents aimed to treat and prevent infections provoked by bacteria and certain protozoa. Certain types of these medications are also effective against parasites. Some antibiotics should be applied for specific, the so-called susceptible bacteria, yet there are also those that can cope with a broad spectrum of pathogens.

The mechanism of action of different antibiotics is not the same, yet the outcome is usually similar. The medicines either kill pathogenic cells or weaken them by preventing their multiplication so that the immune system could cope with them.

What Diseases Can Be Treated With Antibiotics?

Antibiotics can be applied either for prophylaxis (e.g. in advance of surgery to prevent the development of infection in the operation wound) or treatment of severe infections. However, far not all diseases provoked by bacteria need to be treated with an antibiotic. So how to know if your disease is the one requiring antibacterial therapy? There are four criteria for determining this:

  • The likelihood of clearing out the infection without antibiotics;
  • Contagiousness of the disease (whether you can pass it to others or not);
  • The level of risk for getting complications;
  • The time needed to get rid of the infection without antibacterial therapy.

Only after evaluating all the possible risks, your doctor may recommend you to take the antibiotic.

By no means should you take antimicrobials without the clear need for such a therapy. Uncontrolled use of these substances leads to bacterial resistance to them, which complicates the treatment and makes it less effective.

Ways of Using Antibiotics

Depending on the organ or system affected by the infection, your healthcare provider may recommend using one of the following types of antibiotics:

  • They come in the forms of pills, oral solutions/suspensions, or capsules and are taken by mouth. These kinds of medicines have a systemic effect. Such drugs are usually recommended for urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and so on.
  • Topical (creams, gels, ointments, sprays, ear/eye drops). The benefit of using topical antibiotics is the possibility to minimize the risks for severe side effects and directly affect the source of infection.
  • Injectable antibiotics. They are usually applied in case of severe manifestations of serious infections. The injections can be made either intravenously or intramuscularly.

Are There any Contraindications to Antibiotic Use?

There are only two reasons why a person cannot be treated with an antibiotic. The first one is hypersensitivity to the medication. Many people are allergic to penicillin, cephalosporin, and other drugs. In such patients, some other types of antibiotics should be applied. The second reason why antibiotics may be not allowed is the too young age of the patient. Certain antibiotics, like tetracycline, are not recommended in infants and young children.

Pregnancy and lactation are the periods when antibiotics should be used with high caution, taking into account the potential benefits and the possible risks for both the mother and the baby.

Moderate to severe disorders of the renal or hepatic function are the reasons to use antibiotics with caution and, if needed, to use them in doses lower than the recommended ones.

What Are the Common Side Effects of Antibiotics?

The list of the possible adverse reactions to antibiotics is similar for all the representatives of this group of medicines. The majority of antibacterial agents provoke gastrointestinal side effects, which manifest through:

  • Nausea;
  • Vomiting;
  • Stomach discomfort or pain;
  • Diarrhea;
  • Stomach upset;
  • Decreased appetite.

Still, before starting the treatment, you should check the list of unwanted reactions specific to the antibiotic you are prescribed for any other adverse effects you may develop.