Antibiotics have been around longer than many people realize. In ancient times, the Greeks used mold to treat infection. Other instances have been recorded of using plant and animal extracts to combat and prevent infections. It was not until Alexander Flemming made two important medical discoveries that antibiotics really took off. The most famous of these two discoveries is penicillin, which is derived from the fungus Penicillium notatum. Antibiotics have saved many lives. Today, we can easily treat diseases with antibiotics that would have previously been a death sentence. What people also need to be aware of, though, is that antibiotics can come with their own downfalls as well.
When the average person goes to a doctor with an infection, he or she usually takes the prescribed medication without question. Different antibiotics work on different types of bacteria. If a doctor is unsure of what is causing the infection, they will usually prescribe a broad spectrum antibiotic, such as Tetracycline or Amoxicillin. These drugs work very well but can have their own drawbacks. Broad spectrum antibiotics will kill most bacteria, which includes the “good” bacteria that is also present within the body. Upsetting this natural balance can cause digestive issues and, if not corrected, can even cause death. Without “good” bacteria to fight off infection, you can become more vulnerable to getting sick. When given to children in their first year of life, antibiotics can lead to a higher risk of childhood asthma and medication resistance.
The average course for antibiotics is seven to ten days. Though, there are cases in which long-term antibiotics are necessary. One example of such a case concerned my own daughter. She was diagnosed with Vesicoureteral Reflux (VUR), a condition in which her urine would back-flow to her kidneys. This caused her to have many kidney infections. To help prevent further infections, doctors put her on a course of long-term antibiotics. She was diagnosed with this condition when she was seven months old, and she was on these antibiotics for almost two years. In that time, she would get colds and sore throats frequently, and she ended up with several cavities in her baby teeth. When we asked the dentist about these cavities, we were told that they see these cavities frequently in patients that are on long-term antibiotics.
Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections. Taking antibiotics for a viral infection can actually cause more harm than good. Viral infections that antibiotics cannot treat include the flu, bronchitis, the common cold, sore throats not caused by strep, and runny noses. Taking an antibiotic for one of these conditions will not treat the ailment and may even cause some of the issues mentioned above.
So, in conclusion, antibiotics can do a world of good when taken properly and for the conditions for which they are intended. It is up to us as the consumers to be informed and active in our healthcare. In this day and age of instant gratification, many times a doctor will prescribe a broad spectrum antibiotic just to make the patient feel better mentally. The most common viral infections, however, (such as the flu) need to naturally run their course – your body’s immune system will take care of them on its own.