Are antibiotics bad for you?

Depends on what you’re treating

When you’re sick, you want to feel better faster. You might think antibiotics are always the answer, but that’s not exactly true. Are antibiotics “bad” for you? No. And also yes. Read on to learn when to use antibiotics — and when not to.

Antibiotics are a group of medicines that fight infections caused by bacteria, either by killing the bacteria or making it difficult for the bacteria to grow and multiply. There are many different groups of antibiotics, including penicillins and tetracyclines. While the development of antibiotics revolutionized medicine, their overuse is one of the most pressing health concerns today.

When should I take antibiotics?

Since antibiotics are effective on bacteria, they are used to treat illnesses  — such as whooping cough (pertussis), strep throat and urinary tract infections (UTI) — which are  spread by bacteria. You do NOT need to take antibiotics for viral infections such as the common cold, flu, stomach flu or bronchitis.

What’s wrong with taking antibiotics?

When an antibiotic no longer words to kill a bacterium, the bacteria is considered “antibiotic resistant.” These bacteria then can replicate and pass on resistance to other bacteria, thus making the germs harder and harder to kill. Taking an antibiotic you don’t need causes the antibodies to attack your own body’s bacteria, such as the “good bugs” of your gut. This can pass resistance to harmless bacteria, which creates problems as well.

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How did the bacteria become resistant?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 28% of the antibiotics prescribed in the U.S. each year are not necessary or are ineffective against the illnesses they are meant to treat (such as a cold).

Now, the world faces the results of these medication-resistant infections, including:

  • Longer recovery times
  • More doctor visits
  • More expensive treatments
  • Longer or more frequent hospitalizations

What can I do?

There are many ways to do your part in curbing medication-resistant bacteria. Here are a few:

  • Don’t pressure your medical care providers to give you antibiotics. Ask if it’s necessary and whether there are other things to try first.
  • Avoid getting sick by practicing good hand hygiene.
  • Be sure you and your family get all the recommended vaccines.
  • Use antibiotics only as prescribed to you by your doctor for the duration prescribed by the doctor.

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