By Vicki Santillano, DivineCaroline
In the 1930s, a discovery was made that changed the medical world and our entire lives as a result. Sulfa drugs were unleashed as successful combatants against harmful bacteria, and the following decade, penicillin was developed to do the same. With these power antibiotics at their disposal, doctors were able to treat illnesses that had previously confounded them.
Fast-forward to many years later, when antibiotics of all kinds are now the go-to prescription for just about every illness. At this point, our reliance on them is more like abuse. Antibiotics are used all too commonly–most egregiously, for diseases they can’t even treat–and that’s resulting in their overall ineffectiveness. Not only does such frequent pill popping cause relatively unknown side effects, but it can become deadly on a global level if it continues unabated.
What They’re Really Good For
Antibiotics have prevented countless deaths since their creation, but even too much of a good thing can have disastrous results. The worst part is that most people, including some in the medical industry, aren’t fully aware of the problem. In March 2009, pharmacies around the U.S. gave away free antibiotics to promote health in cash-strapped times. Luckily, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stepped in and advised people against treating antibiotics like all-purpose medicine or, even worse, taking them like multivitamins.
Therein lies the biggest problem with antibiotics overuse–people think of them as wonder drugs that can heal anything. But they’re effective only against bacteria, so if someone has an ear infection, tuberculosis, or other bacterial infection, an antibiotic prescription makes sense. Antibiotics don’t have any effect on viral illnesses, which include colds and flu.
Unfortunately, this fact has been lost in a sea of misinformation. A survey that Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network conducted from 1998 to 1999 found that 32 percent of the population believed antibiotics should be taken for colds. Over half of those surveyed were unaware of any potential risks associated with them. But consumers aren’t the only ones perpetuating the myth–in 2001, over 31 percent of antibiotic prescriptions were for colds or sore throats.
A Newly Discovered Side Effect
Taking antibiotics isn’t always an easy process, especially for those especially sensitive to medication. Feeling nauseated or actually throwing up is fairly common when someone’s taking the pills, as are diarrhea and skin issues. Kidney stone development, an increased reaction to sunlight, and blood clot formations are much rarer but can occur, depending on the type of antibiotic prescribed. But a recent study suggests that there are even more dangerous side effects to worry about.
The study, sponsored by the CDC and published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, targeted a group of pregnant women. Researchers found that those with babies who had birth defects had a higher incidence of taking two types of antibiotics (sulfa drugs and nitrofurantoins) for urinary tract infections than mothers with unaffected babies did. The mothers taking sulfa drugs tended to have babies with weak hearts and brain illnesses, as well as smaller-than-average arms and legs. Nitrofurantoins were linked to heart issues and cleft palates.