The Danger of Antibiotic Overuse
Every year, your family probably faces its share of colds, sore throats, and viruses. When you bring your child to the doctor for these illnesses, do you automatically expect a prescription for antibiotics?
Many parents do. And they're surprised, maybe even angry, if they leave the doctor's office empty-handed — after all, what parent doesn't want their kid to get well as quickly as possible? But your doctor could be doing you and your child a favor by not reaching for the prescription pad.
How Antibiotics Work
Antibiotics, first used in the 1940s, are certainly one of the great advances in medicine. But overprescribing them has resulted in the development of resistant bacteria, which are bacteria that don't respond to antibiotics that may have worked in the past. Plus, whenever kids take antibiotics they run the risk of side-effects, such as stomach upset and diarrhea or even a possible allergic reaction.
To understand how antibiotics work, it helps to know about the two major types of germs that can make people sick: bacteria and viruses. Although certain bacteria and viruses cause diseases with similar symptoms, the ways these two organisms multiply and spread illness are different:
- Bacteria are living organisms existing as single cells. Bacteria are everywhere and most don't cause any harm, and in some cases may be beneficial. Lactobacillus, for example, lives in the intestine and help digest food.
But some bacteria are harmful and can cause illness by invading the human body, multiplying, and interfering with normal bodily processes. Antibiotics are effective against bacteria because they work to kill these living organisms by stopping their growth and reproduction.
- Viruses, on the other hand, are not alive and cannot exist on their own — they are particles containing genetic material wrapped in a protein coat. Viruses "live," grow, and reproduce only after they've invaded other living cells.
Some viruses may be fought off by the body's immune system before they cause illness, but others (colds, for example) must simply run their course. Viruses do not respond to antibiotics at all.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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