Antibiotics were initially discovered in 1929, however it wasn’t until the 1940s that their true potential was acknowledged.
Antibiotics are a drug group that are used to treat or prevent certain types of bacterial infection. They work by destroying bacteria or preventing the bacteria from reproducing and spreading. Please be aware that antibiotics are not affective for all ailments including viral infections.
In This Section
How Antibiotics Work
When not to use Antibiotics
- Viral infections such as colds, flu and most coughs
- Mild bacterial infections will get better on their own and they do not require antibiotics
If you take antibiotics when they are not needed, dangerous bacteria within your body can become resistant. This means that when you actually need antibiotics to fight a bacterial infection, your body may not respond to the treatment.
When antibiotics are used
Antibiotics will be used for the following bacterial infections that:
- Carry a risk of more serious complications
- Could affect others unless treated
- Are unlikely to resolve without treatment
- Could take too long to clear without treatment
In some cases, patients are given antibiotics as a precaution because the individual might be at high risk of infection.
How are antibiotics prescribed?
- Oral antibiotics – come in tablet, capsule or liquid form. These types are used for mild to moderate bacterial infections in the body.
- Topical antibiotics – creams, sprays, lotion or drops can be used to treat skin infections.
- Injections of antibiotics – these are administered through an injection or infusion and are normally used for more serious infections.
When you are given antibiotics, it is important that you complete the course prescribed by the healthcare professional. If you stop taking the treatment in the middle of the course your body can become resistant to the bacteria.
What do you do if you miss a dose of antibiotics?
Take the missed dose of antibiotics as soon as you remember unless the next dose is due, then skip the missed dose. If you take two doses closer together you are at higher risk of side effects.
- If you accidentally take one extra dose of antibiotics it is unlikely to cause you any harm. However, it may encourage side effects, such as diarrhoea, stomach pain or feeling/ being sick.
If you take more than one extra dose and you feeling unwell as a result, speak to your GP or call NHS 111 for guidance.
Antibiotics and side effects
For most people antibiotics do not produce side effects, however like any drug, in some instances a patient may experience side effects such as:
- Feeling sick
- Being sick
- Bloating and indigestion
- Stomach pain
Considerations and interactions
Specific antibiotics are prescribed depending on the medical condition diagnosed by a Doctor or Nurse. Do not ever borrow antibiotics that are prescribed for someone else. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may need a different type of antibiotics as certain types of antibiotics can be dangerous in pregnancy. Certain antibiotics cannot be taken with alcohol as they can cause bad side effects and prevent the treatment from working.
There are certain drugs that interact with antibiotics, which will be explained to you when the treatment is prescribed.
Types of Antibiotics
There are hundreds of different types of antibiotics, but most of them can be classified into six groups. These are discussed below:
- Penicillins (e.g Penicillin, Flucloxacillin, Amoxicillin) – these are used to treat numerous bacterial infections including skin infections, chest infections or urinary tract infections.
- Cephalosporins (e.g. Cephalexin) – is used to treat a wide range of infections, including serious infections like septicemia and meningitis.
- Aminoglycosides (e.g. gentamycin and tobramycin) – these antibiotics are only used in Hospital as they can cause bad side effects. They are used to treat serious infections.
- Tetracyclines (e.g. tetracycline and Doxycycline) – are used to treat a wide range of infection, but especially severe acne or chest infections in COPD.
- Macrolides (e.g. erythromycin and clarithromycin) – are commonly used as an alternative for patients that are allergic to Penicillin. They are commonly used to treat lung and chest infections or penicillin resistant strains of bacteria.
- Fluoroquinolones (e.g. ciprofloxacin and levofloxacin) – are broad spectrum antibiotics that can be used to treat a wide range of infections.
Taking antibiotics when you do not need them puts you and your family at risk. This is because overuse of antibiotics means they become less effective and has led to the emergency superbugs such as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) and C.diff (Clostridium difficile). If you are unwell do not assume that you always need antibiotics and in lots of cases rest, hydration, eating well and paracetamol to help with a fever can be more beneficial.
It is important to see your Doctor if you unwell and think you have a bacterial infection as you need to be assessed to see if you need antibiotics or other treatment.
If you have been diagnosed with a bacterial infection and given a course of antibiotics that you have completed, but you have not improved, it is important to get a further review with the Doctor.
Read our GP coffee break interview here for more insight into Antibiotics.