Many Americans today expect that when they go to the doctor, for whatever that happens to be ailing them, that they will receive antibiotics. This is the general practice of many physicians, not because they are ignorant to the ramifications but rather because they do not want to take the time to attempt to explain to their patient why it is unnecessary.
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The consequences of overusing antibiotics are not only the side-effects of these medications but also new, more resilient forms of bacteria emerging that would be immune to many of the antibiotics on the market today. To understand the way antibiotics work, first one must understand what they actually do. Antibiotics, also referred to as antibacterials, are a group of medications that hinder or inhibit the development of microscopic organisms called bacteria. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to defend against many illnesses caused by bacteria.
These ailments include tuberculosis, meningitis and salmonella. Not all bacteria are harmful to humans, but the ones that are harmful can not always be fought off by one’s first line of defense, the immune system (“What”). In those instances, antibiotics act as a boost to the immune system and kill off the harmful organisms. Another type of organism that may cause illness in humans is the result of a virus. Viruses are unaffected by antibiotics and therefore antibiotics are unnecessary; many viruses should be left to run their course (“The Dangers”).
The most damning consequence of overuse of antibiotics is the creation of bacteria that are capable of surviving a course of many of the antibiotics in use today. According to Dr. Martin Blaser, head of the medical department of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center, “Overprescribing [antibiotics] can cause antibiotic resistance,” and “An overuse of antibiotics may be changing our entire bacterial makeup” (qtd. in Conley). Because antibiotics are so widely used to treat numerous ailments, ven when sometimes unnecessary, the bacteria in the human body is adapting and changing its physical characteristics in order to survive future attacks by the body’s immune system as well as antibiotics. Two of the most common and most deadly forms of antibiotic resistant infections are methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA, and Clostridium difficile, known as C diff. (Brody). Both of these afflictions can be very uncomfortable and even lead to death.
MRSA, for example, begins as a red bump on the skin and generally appears to be a spider bite or pimple. The infection can very quickly burrow deep into the skin and begin to spread throughout the body via the blood stream. Once in the blood stream, the infection can spread to vital organs such as the heart, lungs and brain, and that can result in fatality. MRSA is caused by a common strain of bacteria called staph that is found on the skin and in the noses of roughly 1/3 of people.
It is generally harmless unless the bacteria find their way into the blood stream, and even when that occurs, only minor skin irritation occurs in most healthy individuals (“MRSA”). C diff. , as is with MRSA, is caused by a bacteria that is normally found throughout a person’s environment, from the soil, water and air as well as both human and animal feces. Many humans possess the bacteria in the large intestine and live life with never having the illness. This is because a human’s intestines also contain other bacteria which keep everything in order and functioning properly.
If someone were to go onto a regiment of antibiotics, it could kill all the good, helpful bacteria in the intestine and all the C diff. bacteria to run rampant. The results include watery diarrhea, upset stomach and cramping as well as severe dehydration which can lead to kidney failure and a hole forming in the large intestine known as a bowel perforation (“C. difficile”). The secondary results of overusing antibiotics are the adverse side-effects the medications can have on one’s body. The more minor of these side-effects include nausea, diarrhea or vomiting.
The more serious adverse reactions range from sensitivity to the sun to deafness and an allergic reaction, known as anaphylactic shock (“What”). Dr. Mahyar Etminan of the University of British Columbia stated in The Journal of American Medical Association that “The risk of suffering a potentially blinding retinal detachment was nearly fivefold higher among current users of fluoroquinolones [a type of antibiotic], compared with nonusers (qtd. in Brody). Dr. Etminan also acknowledged a greater chance of acute kidney failure in patients taking antibiotics (Brody).
It is hypothesized that the overutilization of antibacterials may lead to numerous afflictions such as type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and allergies (Conley). In some cases, when patients are allergic to the type of antibiotic prescribed, they may experience a life-threatening allergic reaction. This reaction is referred to as anaphylactic shock and involves swelling of the tongue and face, problems breathing and rash (“What”). A select group of people, including adolescents, babies and those older than 60 years of age, possess a larger possibility of detrimental reactions to antibiotics.
The same is also true for people who have liver disease or are taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or aspirin and ibuprofen (Brody). An import thing to remember is that even though antibiotics can have undesired side-effects, when they are prescribed by one’s doctor, the full prescription must be taken according to doctor’s orders. Antibiotics, in general, will help the individual’s immune system kill the bacteria, fungus or parasites that makes the person.