Antibiotics are one of the biggest double-edged swords in medicine. They’re a life-saving gift, sparing us from countless diseases that were deadly just a century ago. They can also cause more harm than good when they’re misused or abused, leading to opportunistic infections and the creation of superbugs. So how do we make sure we’re using them correctly? We can help sort it out.
To be safe, make sure an antibiotic is necessary to treat the condition, take a probiotic to protect gut health and watch for signs of opportunistic intestinal infections that may still crop up during treatment. Get the details on staying safe during antibiotic treatment in the article below.
Make Sure They’re Necessary
Many people still insist that their doctor write them an antibiotic prescription for a cold or the flu, believing the treatment will end their misery sooner — and some doctors are too tired to argue with them. If a doctor says antibiotics won’t help, listen. People who needlessly take antibiotics only increase the chances that the various bacteria living in their bodies will develop antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria are exposed to an antibiotic but a small number of those bacteria are able to survive. The infection that emerges from this event develops new defenses against the antibiotic, making that treatment ineffective. What’s worse, the bacteria can share information about their new defenses with other types of bacteria inhabiting that body, allowing other bacteria to also become resistant. So don't take an antibiotic unless it's absolutely necessary.
Take a Probiotic
Over a third of patients who go on antibiotic therapy develop opportunistic infections in the gut, which can cause severe diarrhea. This is because antibiotics can upset the natural balance of good and bad bacteria in the body. The good bacteria normally protect us against dangerous infections just waiting for a chance to strike, but when these are depleted by antibiotics, they can’t do their job and the opportunistic bacteria may take hold.
The most dangerous of these bacteria, Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), can quickly turn deadly. In fact, 17% of antibiotic-associated gut infections end in death. We can vastly reduce our risks of developing a secondary gut infection by taking a probiotic, which replenishes some of the good bacteria we’ve lost. One study has even shown that some probiotics may increase the effectiveness of antibiotic therapy, improving treatment outcomes.
Read the labels on prescription bottles for any contraindications or warnings and to see if there’s a recommendation to take the medication in a certain way. Make sure to finish the entire round of antibiotics to avoid leaving bacteria behind that may become resistant. Pay attention to gut signals and don’t hesitate to call a doctor if something doesn’t seem right. You might offset minor gastrointestinal upset by increasing probiotics and limiting the diet to easy-to-digest foods, but if the treatment causes watery or particularly foul-smelling diarrhea, see a doctor right away.
Antibiotics are a necessary tool in the fight against many diseases, but we must use them with care and responsibility. The microorganisms in our bodies live in a delicate balance, and tipping the scales too far in the wrong direction can lead to serious disease. Even more, the number of drug-resistant bacteria will continue to increase if we don’t each do our part to limit unnecessary use.