Bacterial strands are known to cause several types of infections. Drugs used to stop these infections aim to either kill or stop the progression of bacterial reproduction. Such drugs are called as antibiotics. Prior to the discovery of antibacterial drugs, people died of common ailments like throat infections. Antibacterial drugs also made surgical interventions a lot safer. Use of antibiotics is prescribed to treat a wide range of infectious conditions, including respiratory tract infections, oral infections, inner ear as well as throat conditions. Antibiotics may be relatively less effective or can turn ineffective against viral infections. Hence, knowing the cause behind an infectious condition is essential for the intake of antibiotics. Not stopping with this, knowledge of the side effects of antibacterial drugs can help manage adverse reactions in a proactive manner.
The first thing to remember is – most forms of bacteria in your system do not cause infections. Also, any part of your body can be affected by such microbes. Antibiotics are prescribed for the treatment of such microbial infections. These drugs are used for treating a wide range of bacterial infections namely, inflammation of brain, swelling of the spinal cord, topical or skin-based infections, sinus or inner ear infections and respiratory conditions such as pertussis (or whooping coughs) as well as pneumonia. Conditions such as whooping cough can affect newly born babies and younger infants. In some cases, pertussis has led to near-fatal outcomes; hence care is provided at a hospital or healthcare setting.
Side effects of antibiotics
Antibacterial medications are likely to trigger some undesired as well as adverse side effects. You will need to remember that when your physician has prescribed an antibiotic, its treatment capabilities far exceed the risks of likely adverse reactions or side effects. However, most people who take antibiotics do not report any acute side effects. Minor side effects include abdominal problems such as pain in lower abdomen, gas formation, vomiting and diarrhea, infections caused by yeast and a marked reduction in appetite levels.
Most of the discomforts and adverse side effects may disappear once your system gets used to the active ingredients of antibiotics. In a small minority of users, these side effects may persist for a longer duration. In such instances, it is highly recommended to consult your treating doctor or a pharmacist, as soon as possible.
Very adverse side effects
As one of the adverse outcomes, you may turn extremely sensitive to sunlight because antibiotics can change the way your skin responds to sun’s rays. Frequent or persistent exposure to the sun can result in blisters, scaling of skin, sunburns, damage of epidermis (outer layer of skin), etc. The treating doctor may advise you to wear sunscreens, garments that can protect you from sunlight as well as minimise the time spent directly under sun. Antibiotics which can make users to turn more photosensitive are drugs such as fluoroquinolones and tetracycline antibiotics.
Discomforts like diarrhea can – at times – turn into an acute condition. This happens when a strand of bacteria called Clostridium difficile triggers a spell of diarrhea. This occurs once the good bacterial strands in your intestines are wiped away and bad bacteria have taken their place. You may notice drying of lips due to dehydration, an acute spell of indigestion, frequent discharge of watery stools or diarrhea, etc. Intake of antidiarrheal meds can only worsen this condition. Upon noticing such an acute episode of diarrhea, you are advised to seek medical attention in a healthcare or clinical setting.
Infections caused by yeast can show up in many sites. Most common among yeast infections is oral thrushes or the formation of white spots in your mouth. If left untreated, oral thrushes may soon progress to the food pipe – i.e., esophagus. Once the infections reach your food pipe, it can make it difficult to swallow foods or drink fluids. On the skin, yeast can lead to formation of rashes coupled with persistent spells of itchiness. Some women who have a sensitive urinary system may develop yeast infections in their vagina or vaginal tract. These infections can turn into near-fatal or at times, fatal outcomes if yeast gets into your blood.
Allergies caused by the intake of antibiotics
In general, allergic reactions triggered by taking doses of antibiotics are very rare. It is hence important to tell your doctor about known allergies and prior episodes of hypersensitivity. A very small percentage of users have reported severe allergies to antibiotics; reactions include rashes or hives on the skin, increase in body temperature, dizziness or feeling excessively drowsy and breathing problems such as gasping, wheezing, etc. Other types of allergic reactions are inflammation of lips, swelling of eyes, soreness of throat, hoarseness of voice, etc. Upon observing one or more of these allergic reactions, you are advised to contact the treating physician or your pharmacist as quickly as possible.
Interactions between antibiotics and other drugs
Antibacterial drugs may work adversely when co-administered with other drugs or intoxicants like alcohol. It is a good practice to share the list of medications you are currently taking. While making this list, you need to ensure to include prescription drugs, over the counter (OTC) meds, herbal drugs, vitamins, dietary supplements, etc. After sharing this list with your doctor, never alter or stop taking the drugs currently taken.
Methotrexate is a drug widely used for treating skin conditions such as psoriasis and autoimmune conditions such as arthritis. This medicine is an immunity suppressant. It is not recommended to take this drug along with antibacterial meds like penicillin. Also, drugs such as orally-administered cephalosporin may cause internal bleeding when taken with blood thinners. Talk to your treating doctor if your medication plan includes intake of drugs such as warfarin, heparin or antiplatelet medicines.
People who are taking birth control pills need to talk to their physician before taking antibiotics. You may be asked to take additional safety measures to avoid unplanned pregnancies. Such additional measures may be needed for people who take drugs like rifabutin, rifampicin, etc.
Those who take alcohol regularly must share details about such drinking habits with their physician. Intake of alcohol along with antibiotics can cause erratic heartbeats, vomiting, dizziness, nausea as well as headaches. You may also need to be careful while taking meds for treating common cold; this is because, some of these cold meds may also contain alcohol in them.
The other drugs with which antibiotics may interact are antacids, water pills (also called as diuretics), muscle relaxers or antiepileptic drugs, a few types of antidepressants and some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, naproxen, etc.
Limitations of antibiotics
It is important to know that antibiotics work chiefly against bacterial infections. Hence, these drugs are largely ineffective when used for conditions triggered by viruses or fungi. A few examples of viral infections are flu, common cold, soreness of throat, a few types of coughs, some respiratory disorders like bronchial asthma or bronchitis and flu in the stomach. Your medical team may sometimes be unclear about the cause of an infection – i.e., whether it is an outcome of a viral or a bacterial infection. In such unclear instances, needful diagnostic tests are done to confirm the underlying cause.
A few types of antibiotics have a narrow-spectrum of efficacy. Such antibacterial drugs may work only against select strands of microbes. On the other hand, there are also antibiotics which have a broader spectrum; these can function against a wide range of bacteria. The type of drugs administered is often a function of your age, bodyweight, severity of the underlying clinical condition as well as based on how well your system responds to the initial dosages of the drug.
Bacterial strands that may develop resistance against antibiotics
While antibiotics are consumed when they are not necessarily needed or if heavy doses of such drugs are taken for fairly long periods, these may help bacteria to develop resistance. This ability to fight drugs may also develop when you skip dosages or discontinue medications during the middle of your treatment plan. Such acts of bacterial resistance may be prevented when you stop taking antibacterial drugs for viral infections such as flu, coughing, common cold, bronchitis, etc.
Types of antibiotics
Your pharmacist may tell you that there are more than 90 different types of antibiotics. These types emerge from the mode of action, chemical composition as well as spectrum of efficacy of these antimicrobial drugs. Some of these drugs work on the walls of the germs while a few attack the cellular membranes. Most effective breakthroughs involve meds that can control the biosynthesis of protein structures of microbes. The most commonly prescribed categories are macrolide antibiotics, penicillin, tetracycline, fluoroquinolones, etc.
Macrolide antibiotics control and stop the synthesis of proteins in bacteria. Drugs categorised under this genre are erythromycin, clarithromycin, azithromycin – to name a few. Penicillin is used to treat infections triggered by streptococci as well as staphylococci strands of bacteria. But, as resistance to penicillin is common among microbes, advanced versions of antibiotics are prescribed to treat bacterial infections.
Tetracycline class of antibacterial drugs are used to treat infections in the air pathways, intestinal system as well as urinary tract. These drugs may also be used for a few conditions which are resistant to drugs like macrolide antibiotics. Fluoroquinolones belong to a class of antibiotics with a broad spectrum of efficacy against microbes. These drugs halt the further growth of microorganisms by inhibiting the replication / reproduction processes.
In sum, common side effects associated with the intake of antibiotics are infections caused by yeast, reduction in appetite levels, painful lower abdomen, gas formation, diarrhea and vomiting. You may also turn more sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolet rays; as a result, you may notice blisters, peeling of skin or sunburn. It is a good practice to wear suitable garments that can safeguard you from sunlight. Allergies caused by the use of antibiotics are very rare. Adverse allergic reactions can include hives on the skin, rashes, dizziness or feeling excessively drowsy, increase in body temperature and breathing disorders like wheezing, shortness of breath. In some people, allergic reactions such as swelling of oral parts, hoarseness of voice and throat problems are observed. If you notice any of these allergies, it is strongly recommended to call 911 or contact your treating physician without any delay.