They're one of the most frequently prescribed types of medications in modern medicine - but when used improperly, they can be exceptionally problematic. These are antibiotics, medicines used to treat illnesses caused by bacteria. Unfortunately, misinformation about antibiotics can lead to us misusing these important medications - which can cause even more health problems.
Understanding what antibiotics were designed to do, and what happens when we don’t use them properly, is a critical part of being a sick patient in recovery. Whether you were recently diagnosed with an illness and prescribed antibiotics, or you’re looking to stay prepared for the next time you may need them, this is a subject where knowledge truly is power - as well as the key to keeping both your and your community’s health in the spotlight.
Bacteria Versus Viruses: (Not) One And The Same
One of the most important things to remember about antibiotics is that they were designed specifically to treat bacteria-related illnesses, which are different from viruses. Though both bacterial and viral infections are caused by microbes, bacteria and viruses are very different in their design and functions. Viruses require a human host to function and reproduce, as they have no cellular structure. Bacteria, on the other hand, are single-celled microorganisms that can exist in numerous environments. Bacteria are also considered to be living organisms - while viruses are not.
The subtle differences between bacteria and viruses are ultimately why antibiotics cannot cure every illness. The common cold, the flu, many sinus infections, and other viral diseases are all examples of illnesses that cannot be treated with antibiotics. Sometimes antivirals can be prescribed to assist in recovery; but often, doctors can only treat the symptoms of a virus.
Antibiotic Resistance: A Worrying Problem
Why does it matter if antibiotics are used to treat patients with a viral infection? Because taking unnecessary antibiotics is a misuse of medication that can actually lead to stronger strains of bacterial infections, known as antibiotic resistant strains. These strains of bacteria can resist the effects of an antibiotic, making them harder to treat in the future. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in a way that reduces the effectiveness of our methods of treating the illnesses they cause.
Antibiotic resistant strains of diseases are also why it’s so critical to take all of the antibiotics you are prescribed. Many patients stop taking their antibiotics when they begin to feel better. But stopping the antibiotics early will keep the bacteria lingering around and could lead to another infection.
Antibiotic resistance creates a twofold problem. For starters, it means that if you develop a relapse of your illness, it may be harder to treat it; but it also means that resistant bacteria can spread to family members, coworkers, and community members. Either way, antibiotic resistance can cause illnesses that were once easily treatable with antibiotics to become dangerous infections.
What To Do With Your Antibiotics
While antibiotic resistance is a scary topic, the good news is that simply taking antibiotics as directed by your doctor is an easy way to avoid the worst of a resistant strain of bacteria. Taking a full dose of antibiotics, even if you feel healthy before your prescription runs out, will ensure that the illness affecting you is thoroughly treated. And in the event that you are diagnosed with a viral infection, you can talk to your doctor about managing the symptoms of your illness and develop an action plan that will help you recover more quickly - no antibiotics needed!
At Genesis Medical, your primary care physician can diagnose various infections and prescribe the correct antibiotics to get you feeling well again. If you feel unwell, schedule an appointment at location near you and our staff will be happy to assist you.