Antibiotics – Do You Understand Them?

What Are Antibiotics?


Antibiotics are medicines that can be used to treat, and sometimes prevent, bacterial infections. They are used in relatively mild conditions like acne to potentially life hreatening ones such as pneumonia.

Antibiotics work in one of two ways. Firstly, they kill the bacteria by disrupting one of the processes they need to survive, such as turning glucose into energy. Alternatively, they prevent bacteria from reproducing and spreading, for example by disrupting the process bacteria use to produce new cells such as growing new proteins.

However, antibiotics offer no benefit at all in many other types of infections, like viral ones, and using antibiotics unnecessarily only increases the risk of antibiotic resistance.

Over the years hundreds of antibiotics have been discovered, but they can be classified into six broad groups:

  • Penicillins which are used mainly for skin, chest and uinary tract infection
  • Cephalsporins used for a variety of infections but also more serious ones like septicaemia and meningitis
  • Amonoglycosides tend to be used only for very serious infections as they can cause nasty side effects
  • Tetracylines which are commonly used for moderate to severe acne and rosacea
  • Macrolides are particularly for lung and chest infections and as an alternative to penicillins
  • Fluoroquinolones are broad spectrum and used for a variety of infections
    • How Do I take Antibiotics?

      antibiotics choice

      If you are prescribed antibiotics you should use them as directed by your GP or pharmacist. It is essential you complete the course, even if you are feeling better. If you stop half way through a course the bacteria can become resistant to the antibiotic. If you forget to take a dose, take the dose as soon as your emember and then continue the course as normal. However, if it is almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue with your normal doses. Do not double up on doses because this will increase the likelihood of side effects.

      If you accidentally take an extra dose it is unlikely to cause you any harm but it will increase your chance of getting side effects such as a pain in your stomach, diarrhoea and feeling sick.

      Why Shouldn’t I Have Antibiotics To Treat A Cough Or Cold?

      do not take antibiotics for coldsAll colds, and most coughs, are caused by viruses. Widespread, inappropriate use of antibiotics has led to a massive rise in antibiotic resistance. This is when bacteria mutate and find ways to survive the effects of the antibiotic.

      There are now several bacteria that are resistant to several antibiotics, such as MRSA, clostridium difficile, multidrug resistant tuberculosis and carbapenemase producing enterobacteriaceae. These types of infection can be serious and challenging to treat. They are becoming an increasing cause of diability and death across the world.

      The biggest worry is bacteria will develop that are resistant to all the antibiotics we have at the moment. Carbapenemase producing enterobacteriaceae is one such emerging group of bacteria. They are widespread in some parts of the world, including parts of Europe and are beginning to be seen in the UK.

      How Do We Overcome Resistance

      By using antibiotics carefully, we can slow down the development of resistence. It is not possible to stop it completely, but slowing it down stops resistance spreading and buys some time to develop new types of antibiotics. So you should only use antibiotics when it is appropriate. We now know that most coughs and colds get better just as quickly without antibiotics. If you are prescribed antibiotics you should take the complete course so you get rid of the bacteria completely. If the course is not completed some bacteria may be left to develop resistance.

      How Should I Treat A Cold?

      Colds can last up to two weeks and may end up with a cough that brings up phlegm. There are many over the counter medicines to ease the symptoms such as paracetamol. Come in and ask our pharmacist for advice.


      1. What are antibiotics?
      2. Why is it essential to finish a course of antibiotics?
      3. What is antibiotic resisitance?
      4. How does it happen?
      5. What caused it?
      6. What are superbugs?
      7. Name two superbugs
      8. How can antibiotic resistance be avoided?
      9. When shouldn’t I use antibiotics?

      [expand title=”Quiz Answers”]

      1. Medications used to treat and sometimes prevent bacterial infections
      2. If you stop using the antibiotic halfway through the treatment the bacteria can become resistant to that antibiotic
      3. This occurs when bacteria stops being affected by the antibiotic
      4. Strains of bacteria can mutate over time and become resistant to a specific antibiotic
      5. The overuse of antibiotics to treat minor conditions that would have got better anyway
      6. Strains of bacteria that have developed resistance to many types of antibiotic
      7. MRSA, clostridium difficile, multidrug resistant tuberculosis, carbapenemase producing enterobacteriaceae
      8. By using antibiotics carefully to slow the development of resistance
      9. You should only use antibiotics when it is appropriate to do so
      10. Coughs and sore throats caused by viruses



Related Post