Antibiotics are antimicrobial substances that are active against bacteria. In simple words, they are the most common type of antibacterial agent used to treat infections caused by bacteria. They are the drugs that treat bacterial infections in humans by either killing the bacteria or making it difficult for the bacteria to grow and multiply. However, despite being commonly prescribed, there are many questions and much confusion regarding their usage. As such, if you also have any queries, here’s Dr Yatin Mehta, chairman, Institute of Critical Care and Anaesthesiology, Medanta, Gurugram answering some of the frequently asked questions about antibiotic use on the occasion of ‘World Antimicrobial Awareness Week’ annually observed by the World Health Organization (WHO) between November 18-24.
Why should antibiotics only be used under expert supervision?
Specific antibiotics are effective against specific infections or bacteria; however, they do not work against all bacteria or viral or fungal infections. All medications, including antibiotics, have side effects. This is why their requirement or dosage needs to be altered based on one’s body systems, such as kidney function and liver function. It has also been observed that when the infection is severe, each hour spent waiting for appropriate antibiotic treatment increases the risk of death.
Symptoms of indiscriminate use, and treatment
Any person suffering from symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, rash, difficulty breathing, or dizziness after taking antibiotics should immediately seek medical assistance. The treatment will vary from person to person, from antibiotic to antibiotic, and from infection to infection.
The disadvantage of taking antibiotics indiscriminately is that the treatment will be ineffective. While people will believe they are treating their disease by taking antibiotics, inappropriate antibiotics, or in inadequate doses will only worsen things.
How does indiscriminate use affect health?
Bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics will multiply if an ineffective or inappropriate antibiotic is used. Rather than killing the bacteria, the antibiotics will multiply the bacteria so the person popping pills can be sicker than he/she was before popping the pills. It can also cause intestinal obstruction.
What kind of antibiotics can be harmful?
Any pill can cause problems as every pill has a different composition, dosage, and side effects. So without consulting a doctor, a person should not pop antibiotics. Instead of helping, they can cause serious harm to the person. Since the general public lacks proper knowledge of medicines, it is recommended that antibiotics be consumed only after consulting with a doctor.
Are there any long term side effects of antibiotics?
The infection for which medications were taken can reoccur and the bone marrow — which produces blood cells, platelets — can be suppressed by many antibiotics if taken without any knowledge about them. Antibiotics can also cause antibiotic induced diarrhea and damage the kidneys.
What should one keep in mind?
Do not jeopardise the life or the lives of the immediate family by using antibiotics unnecessary; doing so can cause not only antibiotic resistance in bacteria but also increase the risk of infection, to family members and the community.