(BlackDoctor.org) — Since the discovery of antibiotics, modern medicine’s ability to control bacterial infections has increased exponentially, and diseases and infections that once killed millions of people are now easily treated and cured. However, with many medical advances, there is often a down side, and antibiotics are one such advance that has seen its share of bad press over the years.
What Are They For?
Antibiotics are specifically designed to treat bacterial infections, and they are often very effective. Over the years, it has been discovered that certain types (or strains) of bacteria are not susceptible to all antibiotics, thus certain medicines are useless in the face of particular bacterial infections. When they work, antibiotics stop bacteria from replicating, halting a process that can lead to infections that are larger, more virulent, more dangerous, and potentially lethal.
Antibiotics can be used for a variety of infections, including certain infections of the ear, throat, sinuses, blood, urinary tract, wounds, skin, and respiratory tract.
What Are They Not For?
When it comes to viral infections, antibiotics are useless. Viruses are not the same as bacteria, and antibiotics can play no role in the healing of a viral infection. The common cold, influenza (the flu), most ear infections, bronchitis, stomach flu and most coughs are viral in nature. Some evidence even shows that many bacterial ear infections are not helped a great deal by antibiotics.
How Are They Abused or Misused?
Antibiotics are abused or misused in many ways, and here is a sample of the most common misuses and abuses.
• Wrongly prescribed: Doctors sometimes feel coerced by anxious patients to prescribe antibiotics, even when it’s clear that the patient has a viral infection. Worried parents don’t want to hear that little Tasha will get better on her own with some TLC and fluids, thus a doctor will sometimes prescribe antibiotics just to appease the parents. This can cause bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics in the future, and these bacteria can even be transmitted to other people.
• Unfinished treatments: When a patient begins taking antibiotics, they often begin to feel much better within one or two doses. If the course of antibiotics prescribed is longer than four or five days, the patient will sometimes choose to not complete the course. This can also cause resistant strains of bacteria to develop.
• Taking antibiotics on your own: Patients will sometimes save up antibiotics from a previously unfinished course (see above), and then take the remainder of the medication the next time they feel sick. They may also give the leftover antibiotics to a friend, colleague or family member. Treating an illness with antibiotics without a prescription is both illegal and dangerous, and can also lead to resistant strains of bacteria. And taking an incomplete course of antibiotics—even if it may be the correct one for that particular illness—is also problematic.