What Are Antibiotics? Which Infections Do They Treat?
Antibiotics are powerful medicines that fight certain infections and can save lives when used properly. They either stop bacteria from reproducing or destroy them.
Before bacteria can multiply and cause symptoms, the immune system can typically kill them. White blood cells (WBCs) attack harmful bacteria and, even if symptoms do occur, the immune system can usually cope and fight off the infection.
Sometimes, however, the number of harmful bacteria is excessive, and the immune system cannot fight them all. Antibiotics are useful in this scenario.
Antibiotics cure disease by killing or injuring bacteria. The first antibiotic was penicillin, discovered accidentally from a mold culture.
Although antibiotics are useful in a wide variety of infections, it is important to realize that antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. Antibiotics are useless against viral infections (for example, the common cold) and fungal infections
What Are the Side Effects of Antibiotics?
Antibiotics may have side effects. Some of the more common side effects may include:
- Soft stools or diarrhea
- Mild stomach upset
You should notify your doctor if you have any of the following side effects:
- Severe watery diarrhea and abdominal cramps
- Allergic reaction (shortness of breath, hives, swelling of lips, face, or tongue, fainting)
- Vaginal itching or discharge
- White patches on the tongue
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.