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Antibiotics: Abuse, Side Effects, and Resistance

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Antibiotics are one of the numerous categories of prescription drugs, commonly misused in this part of the world. 
A 2019 study showed that only 68.3% of adults in Nigeria used antibiotics following a doctor’s prescription.
It was also found that only 42% of Nigerian adults complete their prescribed antibiotic regimen.

The Corona Virus pandemic has contributed further to this vice, as there have been widespread reports of panic buying and hoarding of all sorts of prescription medication (antibiotics inclusive) since the pandemic started.  It is also no secret that many people have recently resulted to self-diagnosis at the slightest sign of a sore throat or fever.

What are Antibiotics?

Antibiotics are drugs used to slow down the growth of bacteria and treat bacterial infections, by stopping them from reproducing or destroying them completely. Antibiotics cannot be used to treat viral infections like flu, most coughs, and COVID-19.

It is important to note that, as much as antibiotics fight bacteria, they may also harms us slowly in ways we don’t even notice. Shocking right? “How could something so helpful be harmful at the same time?” you might ask.

dangers of misusing antibiotics

Well here’s a thought – While some bacteria can cause infections, most species are harmless or perform beneficial functions, such as aiding digestion. These beneficial bugs are called commensal bacteria – one of the most important functions of commensal bacteria is boosting the immune system. This is a major reason why excessive use of antibiotics can be harmful to the human body.

Ever heard of the hygiene hypothesis?

Well, this is a theory that states “in early childhood, exposure to particular microorganisms such as; Gut flora, and Helminth parasites can protect against allergic diseases by contributing to the development of the human immune system”. What this simply means is that early exposure of bacteria to the human system will give the white blood cells a fighting chance against that bacteria.

Interesting isn’t it?

Now consider what happens when antibiotics are abused, and these bacteria that could help the immune system, are eradicated completely.

Antibiotic Resistance

Excessive use of antibiotics helps certain harmful bacteria develop higher resistance, and reduces the potency of the drugs in fighting against them. This occurrence is called antibiotic resistance.

The result of this occurrence is that these drugs that would normally kill or inhibit the growth of such bacteria, no longer work effectively.

Medical professionals believe that the growing number of bacterial infections that are developing resistance to antibacterial medication, has largely been caused people overusing antibiotics.

This is not a complete shock however, as Alexander Fleming (the man who discovered the first antibiotic) predicted this occurrence in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1945, where he said:

“Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily under-dose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug, make them resistant.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today. It results in longer hospital stays, increased health costs and higher mortality.

Additional research by WHO has shown that a growing number of infections – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhea, and salmonellosis, are becoming harder to treat, as the antibiotics used to treat them become less effective.

Antibiotic resistance is natural and can affect anyone, regardless of age or location. However, the abuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is accelerating the process.

Side Effects of Antibiotics:

As with many other drugs, there are side effects that can occur when using antibiotics. They include:

  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • rash
  • upset stomach
  • with certain antibiotics or prolonged use, fungal infections of the mouth, digestive tract, and vagina

Other less common side effects include:

  • formation of kidney stones, when taking sulphonamides
  • abnormal blood clotting, when taking some cephalosporins)
  • sensitivity to sunlight, when taking tetracyclines
  • blood disorders, when taking trimethoprim
  • deafness, when taking erythromycin and the aminoglycosides

Need a second opinion on some antibiotics, or any medication at all?

You can talk to a licensed doctor right now using the Tremendoc mobile application, and get professional advice on dosage and any other concerns you might have.