This is a post prepared under a contract funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and written on behalf of the Mom It Forward Influencer Network for use in CDC’s Be Antibiotics Aware educational effort. Opinions on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CDC.
Illness is just one part of busy family life. It’s not fun, but it happens to the best of us. If you’re like me, some visits to the doctor’s office include leaving with a prescription for antibiotics. So what are antibiotics?
I’m happy to share information about appropriate antibiotic use, including what they do, when they’re needed, and how to make sure they work when you need them!
What are antibiotics?
These days, the kids are the ones who need antibiotics most often, but not too long ago, Grambo came home with her own prescription. It was just a reminder to me that antibiotics are often part of family life.
And if your kids are like mine, once they start feeling better, they think they should be done taking medicine. That’s why it’s important for us as parents to know about appropriate antibiotic use.
What do antibiotics treat and what don’t they treat?
Antibiotics treat illnesses caused by bacteria.
But they’re only needed for treating certain bacterial infections, and even some bacterial infections get better without antibiotics, including:
- Many sinus infections
- Some ear infections
Antibiotics do not work on viruses that cause colds and flu, bronchitis, or runny noses, even if the mucus is thick, yellow, or green. It’s all about bacteria. If you have a virus, taking antibiotics will not make you feel better—it’s just not the type of illness in which antibiotics are effective.
The truth is that even though we often think of antibiotics when we’re not feeling well, if they aren’t needed, they won’t actually help!
So if your kids ask you, “What are antibiotics?,” it’s important to try to educate them about the facts. It might seem like a hard concept to explain, but even younger children understand if you tell them that there are different kinds of germs. If we work on building awareness with our kids now, hopefully they will be better prepared to avoid the risks that can come with antibiotic use.
What do antibiotics do?
To keep it simple, antibiotics save lives. Antibiotics are critical for treating people with serious infections, such as pneumonia or sepsis, the body’s extreme response to an infection. When a patient needs antibiotics, the benefits usually outweigh the risks of side effects or antibiotic resistance.
Despite this simple and important answer, antibiotics aren’t always the answer to our health issues. I know I’ve gone into the doctor’s office before, thinking I needed an antibiotic to help me feel better quickly, only to find out that I was dealing with a virus.
When antibiotics aren’t needed, they won’t help you, and the side effects could still hurt you. Side effects range from minor to very severe health problems, such as a rash or C. difficile (C. diff) infection.
If you need antibiotics, take them exactly as prescribed. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about your antibiotics (or if you start to feel better), or if you develop any side effects.
Oh, and don’t take antibiotics prescribed for someone else or save them for the next time you become sick.
What is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent threats to the public’s health. Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. At least 23,000 people die as a result.
I’ve heard about antibiotic resistance, but I didn’t realize that it was such a huge threat!
It’s important to know that antibiotic resistance does not mean the body is becoming resistant to antibiotics; it means that the bacteria develop the ability to defeat the antibiotics designed to kill them.
When bacteria become resistant, antibiotics cannot fight them, and the bacteria multiply.
So one of the best things we can do is to avoid demanding antibiotics from a doctor. Just because you think your friend took an antibiotic for the same illness you have, doesn’t mean you also need an antibiotic!
Yes, I’m guilty of doing this and even telling my doctor what I should be prescribed! Flu, anyone? But I just wanted to feel better!
Stay healthy and keep others (including your family) healthy by:
- Cleaning hands
- Covering coughs
- Staying home when sick
- Getting recommended vaccines—for the flu, for example.
Improving the way we take antibiotics helps keep us healthy now, helps fight antibiotic resistance, and ensures that life-saving antibiotics will be available for future generations.
To learn more about antibiotic prescribing and use, visit www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use.
To learn more about sepsis, a life-threatening condition that is treated with antibiotics, visit www.cdc.gov/sepsis.