Expect 1 to 2 weeks in additional Shipping Delays. Due to high call volumes, please click here if you need to contact us.

Understanding Antibiotics

Tuesday 22 September 2020
Antibiotics

Table of Contents


I. What are Antibiotics?

II. History

III. Common Uses for Antibiotics

IV. How to Properly Use Antibiotics

a. Side Effects

V. Type of Antibiotics


What are Antibiotics?

Antibiotics are common medications used in the treatment of antibacterial infections. Infections occur when microorganisms enter a person’s body. These organisms then use the human body to reproduce and colonize, creating an infection. Bacterial, viral, and fungal infections may be spread through:

  • Skin contact
  • Inhaling airborne particles or droplets
  • Touching an object with a pathogen on it
  • Contact with feces
  • Ingesting contaminated food or water
  • The transfer of bodily fluids [1]

Once an infection takes hold in the body, it can spread and harm other bodily systems. Doctors typically prescribe prescriptions to treat these infections before they become serious. Medications like amoxicillin, Levaquin (levofloxacin), and retapamulin cream kill bacteria and make it hard for these pathogens to grow and multiply. Read on to learn more about the uses and application of antibiotics. [2]

a foil packet of two yellow pills on a blue background

History of Antibiotics

Antibiotics have been readily used for infection treatment since the 20th century. It was not until the last century that scientists even knew that bacteria caused infections. Paul Ehrlich, a German physician, discovered the first modern antibiotic. He found that a chemical called arsphenamine was an effective treatment for syphilis in 1909. Ehrlich found this out by using chemical dyes to color certain bacterial cells but not others. Through these experiments, he found that some bacteria can be killed and leave healthy cells behind. Thirty years later, microbiologist Selman Waksman coined the term ‘antibiotics’ and discovered 20 antibiotics himself.

In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. It came about by accident when he left a plate of staphylococcus bacteria uncovered. The fungus created areas on the plate where bacteria would not grow. He then isolated these cells and began to use these cultures on human wounds to prevent infections.

By 1944, penicillin was being widely used in European hospitals and on World War II battlefields to treat soldiers' infections. Since then, antibiotics have been perfected and used readily in bacterial infection treatment. Sometimes these antibiotics are overprescribed and can result in antibiotic resistance. [3]

Common Uses for Antibiotics

Common bacterial infections can often be cleared up by your immune system without medication intervention. Sometimes, infections are more severe and do require prescription antibiotics. Antibiotics should be used when bacterial infections:

  • Could take a long time to clear without treatment.
  • Carry a risk of severe complications.
  • Could infect others unless treated.
  • Are unlikely to clear up without medical treatment.

Antibiotics are only beneficial in treating bacterial and fungal infections, but cannot help with viral infections like the common cold or flu. In some cases, you may be prescribed antibiotics as a precaution, which is known as antibiotics prophylaxis. [4] Antibiotics are often prescribed to treat:

  • Moderately severe acne
  • Skin infections like impetigo
  • Sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia
  • Kidney infections
  • Cellulitis or pneumonia
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Genital herpes
  • Rheumatic fever
  • Human or animal bite [4]

someone putting hand sanitizer on their hands

How to Properly Use Antibiotics

As mentioned earlier, antibiotics have no use if you do not need to clear up an infection. If you do not use all of the antibiotics prescribed, you should not share them with others, but dispose of them properly in the garbage or a pharmacy. Please do not dispose of medication down the drain or flush it down the toilet. [5]

There are several types of antibiotics, and your doctor will give you specific directions about your antibiotic. They may come in pill or topical forms. It is essential to take these drugs as long as you are prescribed, even if you feel better. If you stop too soon, then bacteria may stick around and re-infect your body. If you do not take your antibiotics correctly, it may make you sicker or cause side effects. [2]

a. Side Effects

When used correctly, antibiotics are typically safe to use. The most common side effects of antibiotics often involve digestive problems. Digestive system symptoms can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Bloating and indigestion
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea

Around one in 15 people will have an allergic reaction to antibiotics. [6]This reaction is typically mild and is usually treated through common antihistamines. If symptoms are more severe, you should contact your doctor or emergency medical provider. Some common allergic reaction symptoms can include:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Skin rash
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Feeling lightheaded or faint
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Clammy skin
  • Collapsing or losing consciousness
  • Confusion or anxiety [6]

a man looking tired on a bench

Types of Antibiotics

There are hundreds of different types of antibiotics. Your doctor will prescribe your medication based on the condition you are experiencing. Some antibiotics are much more specific, like retapamulin cream, which is used to treat impetigo. This condition needs to be treated quickly because it is a highly contagious skin infection and may appear as red sores on the face. The most common types may include:

Penicillins: As mentioned earlier, penicillin paved the way for many future antibiotics. Penicillins are derived from a fungus called Penicillium. Penicillins are typically used for several types of infections, including sexually transmitted diseases, respiratory infections, ear infections, and skin infections. Rashes and allergic reactions are common side effects of penicillins. Examples of this type of antibiotic include amoxicillin and penicillin.

Fluoroquinolones (broad-spectrum antibiotics): These types of antibiotics are typically used when other antibiotics have failed. They are also used when other antibiotics have caused allergies. Fluoroquinolones, or quinolones, can treat eye infections, pneumonia, sinus, joint, urinary, or gynecologic infections. Side effects may include diarrhea, headaches, and drowsiness. Levaquin (levofloxacin) and ciprofloxacin are common quinolones.

Sulfonamides: These antibiotics are slightly different and do not kill bacteria, but stop bacterial growth and allow the immune system to heal the rest. Sulfonamides are commonly used in topical forms to treat burns, vaginal infections, eye infections, and traveler’s diarrhea. [7]

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.