Although antibiotics are regarded as the keystone of modern medicine, their excessive use generates unwanted and potentially severe side effects. The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) has lately been sounding the alarms concerning the consequences of overusing antibiotics.
While specialists are taking great steps towards preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics and to slow down potential infections through better policy, the overuse of antibiotics has nevertheless continued to have severe health consequences both for the United States, and other countries from around the world.
Antibiotic use has the potential to deplete our bodies of its natural ability to fight, leaving us weak and vulnerable to many different illnesses!
Antibiotics were first used in the 1940s, and have remained very relevant in the treatment of patients for a wider variety of sicknesses. However, overprescribing them leads to the development of resistant bacteria, which does not respond to antibiotics that may have worked in the past.
There are numerous side effects that are associated with antibiotic use, and you should know that the use of extremely high doses of antibiotics can result in severe consequences.
How Do Antibiotics Work?
To understand how antibiotics work, it is important to know about the two major types of germ that usually cause sickness in people: viruses, and bacteria. Although certain viruses and bacteria cause diseases with similar symptoms, the way these organisms multiply and spread illness differs greatly:
- Viruses- Viruses cannot exist on their own, they are particles that contain genetic material that is wrapped in a protein coat. Viruses grow and reproduce only after they have invaded other living cells.
- Bacteria- Bacteria is a living organism, that exists as single cells. They are everywhere, and most of them do not cause harm. We even have “good” bacteria in our body, such as Lactobacillus, which lives in the intestine and helps to digest food.
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There are also harmful bacteria that cause illness by invading the human body. Antibiotics help to kill bacteria, by stopping their growth and reproduction. The body’s immune system can fight off some viruses even before they cause illness, while others such as colds must simply run their course and antibiotics do not work against them.
What Are the Negative Effects of Overusing Antibiotics?
The Upset of Sensitive Gut Flora
Antibiotics can upset sensitive gut flora. Your intestines contain about 100 trillion bacteria of different strains, and although some of them are deadly, there is a natural balance between the good bacteria and the deadly ones. This natural balance in the stomach can be altered using antibiotics.
The helpful bacteria are known as gut flora, and supports proper digestion and immunity.
While aggressive antibiotics can be helpful when you have a serious infection, they can also wipe out many good stomach bacteria leaving behind only those bacteria that are immune to antibiotics to flourish.
That is the case with C. diff diarrheal infections.
Many individuals, and especially children, are vulnerable to the unfriendly side effects of unnecessary antibiotics; which includes lasting changes to their gut flora.
Antibiotic Abuse Causes an Increase in Fatal Diarrhea Cases in Children
Most common colds are viral, and making use of antibiotics to treat them does not really stop the infection and can create unwanted side effects.
Studies have revealed that half of the antibiotics that are prescribed for children are for upper respiratory infections associated with the common cold. A new study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that children that were given antibiotics for routine respiratory infections are more susceptible to aggressive antibiotic-resistant strains of a bacteria that is commonly known as C. diff.
Children are needlessly put at risk for health problems when antibiotics are prescribed incorrectly; including dangerous antibiotic-resistant infections, and C. difficile infection.
- C. diff is a bacterium found in the human stomach that can lead to severe diarrhea, and it is responsible for 250,000 infections in hospitalized patients and about 14,000 deaths of children and adults yearly.
Antibiotics Teach Good Bacteria to Go Bad
Through the process of horizontal gene transfer, bacteria have evolved defenses against antibiotics. Essentially, bacteria do not need to reproduce to pass along their genetic protection from antibiotics.
All they do is simply pass along these genes to fellow bacteria, just like students passing notes in their classroom. One study discovered that bacteria passing through the colon will be able to transfer their resistance genes to other forms of bacteria! This is a scary mutation that bacteria can have, and is an incredibly dangerous side effect of the overuse of antibiotics.
Leads to Increased Hospital and Drug Cost
The further antibiotic resistance spreads, the more frequent common antibiotics must be retired. This includes many that are available as generics, as well.
In the long run, this implies that ridding patients of various types of infections may require longer and more expensive forms of therapy. In 2009, an average patient that is facing an antibiotic-resistant infection can expect a medical bill of between $18,588, and $29,069. This results in a total of $20 billion in health care costs annually in the US (this estimate is from the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics at Tufts University).
Respiratory Side Effects of Antibiotic Abuse
Antibiotics can lead to allergy-like symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, and wheezing.
In severe cases, the intake of too many antibiotics can prevent a person from breathing completely.
Also, a severe allergy to antibiotics can result in anaphylaxis; a condition that is characterized by low blood pressure, the inability to breathe, and swelling of the throat.
Antibiotic Abuse Leads to Increasing Cases of Untreatable Gonorrhea
CDC is aggressively tracking the cases of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, along with C. diff. Not only does the untreatable gonorrhea cause pain, but it has also been linked to pelvic inflammatory disease, tubal infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and neonatal eye infections.
A specific strain, known as Neisseria gonorrhoeae, has developed resistance to the specific antibiotic used to treat the infection.
Presently, cephalosporin antibiotics happen to be the only class that meets the CDC’s standard to fight resistant gonorrhea.
In 2012, there were 334,826 reported cases of gonorrhea in the United States, and according to CDC the majority of new infections occurred in people between the ages of 15 to 24.
Safe Intake of Antibiotics
So how should antibiotics be taken to ensure safe use? The following tips will guide you while taking antibiotics:
- Only take antibiotics for bacterial infections. It is always a great idea to allow milder illnesses (especially those caused by viruses) to run their course. By doing this, you will be able to prevent antibiotic-resistant germs from developing. However, you need to leave it to your doctor to decide whether an illness is mild, or serious
- Seek Medical Advice. Ask your doctor if your illness is caused by bacteria, or a virus. If a virus, ask for ways to treat the symptoms, and do not pressure your doctor to prescribe antibiotics.
Always remember that antibiotics can only treat bacterial infections when it is taken for the full amount of time prescribed by your doctor. Avoid using antibiotics that have been lying around your home, and never use an antibiotic that was prescribed for another person.
Saving antibiotics for another time is not a good idea, and any remaining antibiotics should be thrown away as soon as the full dose of the prescribed medicine has been taken.
Antibiotics have the potential to be an excellent medicine, or a medicine which can cripple your body in the long run. It is best to talk to your medical professional about this issue, and ask as many questions as possible.
Research has shown the negative side effects of over using antibiotics, and you do not want to fall in to this trap.
Building a healthy body which is naturally resistant to bacteria and viruses should be your goal, and only use antibiotics when they are truly necessary.
Developing a healthy lifestyle and a strong immune system will allow you to say illness-free for years to come!