Antibiotics are used to treat or prevent some types of bacterial infection. They work by killing bacteria or preventing them from reproducing and spreading. But they don’t work for everything. When it comes to antibiotics, take your doctor’s advice.
Antibiotics don’t work for viral infections such as colds and flu, and most coughs and sore throats.
Many mild bacterial infections also get better on their own without using antibiotics.
Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them puts you and your family at risk of a longer and more severe illness.
When Antibiotics are used
Antibiotics may be used to treat bacterial infections that:
- are unlikely to clear up without antibiotics
- could infect others unless treated
- could take too long to clear without treatment
- carry a risk of more serious complications
People at a high risk of infection may also be given antibiotics as a precaution, known as antibiotic prophylaxis.
Side Effects of Antibiotics
As with any medication, antibiotics can cause side effects. Most antibiotics don't cause problems if they're used properly and serious side effects are rare.
The most common side effects include:
- being sick
- feeling sick
- bloating and indigestion
Some people may have an allergic reaction to antibiotics, especially penicillin and a type called cephalosporins. In very rare cases, this can lead to a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), which is a medical emergency.
Some antibiotics aren't suitable for people with certain medical conditions, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. You should only ever take antibiotics prescribed for you – never "borrow" them from a friend or family member.
Some antibiotics can also react unpredictably with other medications, such as the oral contraceptive pill and alcohol. It's important to read the information leaflet that comes with your medication carefully and discuss any concerns with your pharmacist or GP.
Both the NHS and health organisations across the world are trying to reduce the use of antibiotics, especially for conditions that aren't serious.
The overuse of antibiotics in recent years means they're becoming less effective and has led to the emergence of "superbugs". These are strains of bacteria that have developed resistance to many different types of antibiotics, including:
- methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
- Clostridium difficile (C. diff)
- the bacteria that cause multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB)
- carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae (CPE)
These types of infections can be serious and challenging to treat, and are becoming an increasing cause of disability and death across the world.
The biggest worry is that new strains of bacteria may emerge that can't be effectively treated by any existing antibiotics.
How you can help?
If you are interested in knowing how you can help to slow antibiotic resistance and cut out unnecessary use of antibiotics, then become an Antibiotic Guardian. For more information, please follow the following link: