Historically, the first antibiotic discovered was penicillin. Although it was discovered several years before World War II, it was not widely manufactured and distributed until the war. This antibiotic has advanced into an entire family of antibiotic drugs to treat different types of bacteria. Previously untreatable staph and strep bacterial infections have become manageable conditions. The discovery and use of antibiotics has without a doubt saved millions of lives. Amoxicillin and Erythromycin are examples of antibiotics currently in use.
So, if antibiotics are so great, why is it that doctors often send people away without them? What purpose would it serve to keep them from their patients?
Just as the name infers, antibiotics are anti-bacterial. However, a sore throat or stomach sickness is often caused by a virus. A runny nose or sinus congestion can be caused by an allergic reaction. Foot infections are commonly caused by fungus. In these situations, what purpose would it serve to give an antibiotic? I hope it is clear that giving an antibiotic to kill a virus, fungus, or solve allergies is similar to using weed killer to kill cockroaches.
To make matters worse, misusing antibiotics can actually cause them to lose effectiveness when they are really needed. Bacteria are very smart little organisms. They are constantly changing so that they can better survive. We all have “normal flora,” otherwise known as bacteria that live in our intestines, on our skin, and in our mouth. However, these bacteria are kept in check by our immune system and by our protective layers of mucous and skin. By taking antibiotics when not indicated, we expose these bacteria to antibiotics. Instead of fighting the source of infection, some bacteria die but others are allowed the opportunity to develop protection against the antibiotics. So when you get a deep cut on your foot and those same bacteria are allowed to penetrate your body, the antibiotics may not be effective. For this reason, it is important to save the antibiotics we currently have for when they are truly needed. Your doctor is your best resource for knowing when they are to be used.