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Being Antibiotic Aware

The widespread availability of antibiotics in the 20th century was a medical advancement that undoubtedly saved millions of lives and was revolutionary to medicine. However, the effectiveness of antibiotics also created an unintended consequence of overuse and may be responsible for creating the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance. While antibiotics can rid your body of illness when used appropriately, they can also have detrimental effects when used inappropriately. A little knowledge can go a long way towards knowing when antibiotics can benefit your health.

Some benefits of antibiotics occur when they are:

  • Effective in slowing the growth of harmful bacteria and kill specific infections
  • Preventative in certain situations (i.e. before surgery, chemotherapy patients)
  • Fast-acting, may begin working within a few hours
  • Easy to take, mostly oral medications

Potential side effects of antibiotics are also possible, including:

  • In individuals who take them too often resulting in antibiotic resistance to them
  • Damage to the immune system from long-term use
  • Digestive issues, bone damage, and more.
  • The alteration of your gut microbiome
  • Rash, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, and yeast infections

Antibiotics are indicated for specific bacterial infections like pneumonia and sepsis, an extreme response to an infection. Mild bacterial infections like sinus and ear infections may be better left to heal naturally. Staying healthy or recovering from a mild illness can be accomplished by washing hands, covering your coughs, staying in when contagious, and certain vaccinations.

The overuse of antibiotics has led to the development of “superbugs”, infectious agents that are resistant to antibiotics and can be life threatening. Superbugs develop faster as more people use antibiotics and are in part due to excessive over prescribing of antibiotics as a broad treatment and not bacteria-specific. Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections but are often prescribed when the cause of a suspected infection is unclear, killing off good bacteria in your gastrointestinal (GI) system that keeps you healthy.

Inadequate levels of healthy bacteria in your digestive system has been linked to chronic health conditions, especially in children. The next time you are offered antibiotics by your doctor, be aware of potential side effects before making a decision. If you do decide to use antibiotics, consider taking a high-quality probiotic to attempt to maintain a healthy microbiome. Optimal nutrition, exercise, adequate sleep, and stress management can also go a long way to staying healthy.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) touts a widespread effort, Be Antibiotics Aware, to help fight antibiotic resistance and improve decisions around prescribing antibiotics and their use. Guidelines on appropriate situations to use antibiotics and an annual observance of their use intends to strengthen community health by being selective about antibiotic use and minimizing the risk of developing “superbugs”.

Don’t take someone else’s antibiotics or use a prescription intended for another situation. Work with your doctor to make sure you are using antibiotics appropriately, and understand when they can be helpful to you. Judicious use of antibiotics doesn’t just keep you functioning at a high level, it protects us all.