April 01, 2019

Antibiotics

Use them responsibly

If you seek out an antibiotic at the first sign of an infection, you're not alone. But you may not be aware of the risks of unnecessary antibiotic use — including the growing threat of antibiotic resistance. Here's a closer look at situations in which antibiotics help and those in which they may harm.

Benefits and risks

Penicillin and other antibiotics have saved millions of lives by making once fatal infections treatable. But antibiotics carry risks that must be weighed against the benefits.

Risks include:

  • Allergic reaction — A mild reaction may result in a skin rash and itching. A severe reaction (anaphylaxis) is a medical emergency that involves swelling of the throat and breathing problems.
  • Drug interaction — When antibiotics interact with certain drugs, the effectiveness of the drugs or the antibiotic may be affected, or side effects may occur.
  • Infection — Antibiotics can increase your risk of certain types of infections due to the disruption of the normal, healthy bacteria in your gastrointestinal system. If you've recently taken an antibiotic, you're more at risk of developing a bacterial foodborne illness. Infections caused by Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) bacteria — which can cause severe diarrhea — are much more likely if you are taking or have recently taken an antibiotic. You're also at increased risk of a fungal infection such as a vaginal yeast infection or an infection of the mouth and throat (thrush).

The reality of resistance

Another serious risk of...