Are We Overdoing Antibiotics?

While antibiotics can give respite from many diseases, there is a tendency to overdo it. This article enlightens you about the overuse of antibiotics.

By Dr Madhu Purushothaman

Are We Overdoing Antibiotics?


When Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, it marked a new beginning in the history of healthcare. The world welcomed antibiotics and said goodbye to many infectious diseases. With time, antibiotics have become a way of life. In recent times though, the theory of overdoing antibiotics has come into play. Are you guilty of it too?

Does even the slightest sniffle or sneeze from your child leave you scrambling for that old prescription or antibiotics? Stop! Because, for all you know, you might be causing more damage than good to your child’s health. As a parent, it is important for you to know how to use antibiotics judiciously. Here are some tips to help you:

The dark side of antibiotics

To know what’s bad about taking antibiotics, it’s important to know how antibiotics really work. There is a general belief that antibiotics can treat any infection. This is absolutely wrong. Antibiotics can only counter infections caused by bacteria. The common cold, for example, is not one of them, as it is a viral infection. So taking antibiotics for a cold is of no use at all.

Parents should also be aware that excessive use of antibiotics will cause bacteria to develop resistance, and your child will not respond to these medications. This is because, over a period of time, the bacteria tend to build up a defence mechanism against the antibiotics. Hence, there is a chance that antibiotics may not work when your child really needs them. Therefore, you should avoid overuse and/or inappropriate use of antibiotics.

Side-effects and allergies

In addition to bacterial resistance, antibiotics are also known to cause unpleasant side-effects in approximately one in ten people. These

side-effects last for the length of the course of

the medication and immediately subside once medication is stopped. The symptoms of these side-effects are:

  • Feeling of nausea
  • Bloating and indigestion
  • Lack of appetite
  • Irritable bowels or diarrhoea
  • Stomach ache

Apart from these side-effects, antibiotics are also known to trigger allergic reactions in approximately one in fifteen people. The symptoms of these allergies include itching, rashes and cough, followed by wheezing and tightness of throat. Although these allergic reactions can be easily treated, it would be wise to prevent them altogether by limiting the use of antibiotics.

Judicious use of antibiotics

First and foremost, you should understand that antibiotics are not over-the-counter medicines. It is an offence to procure them without a doctor’s prescription. There are a few rules that parents should follow religiously when it comes to antibiotics:

  • Never self-prescribe antibiotics.
  • Never buy antibiotics based on a pharmacist’s suggestion. Always carry a doctor’s prescription.
  • Never pester your doctor to prescribe antibiotics always; not every sneeze and cough can be countered with an antibiotic.
  • It is important to complete the entire course of medication as recommended by your doctor. You should not stop the medication midway because your child is doing better.

Be wise and say ‘no’

Overuse of antibiotics is a widespread practice among modern-day parents, who usually want them prescribed at the drop of a hat. This should be avoided. Antibiotics should only be given after proper medical diagnosis.

So, the next time your tiny tot sneezes or catches an infection, do not raid your medicine cabinet or reach for that old strip of antibiotics! There are other ways to get back on track.

Fundamentals of antibiotics

  • Antibiotics are prescribed only to treat infections that are caused by bacteria. They combat the infection-causing bacteria, and also stop their multiplication.
  • Different bacterial infections require different antibiotics; there is no ‘cure-all’ antibiotic.
  • Antibiotics cannot cure the common cold or cough as these are caused by viruses, not bacteria.
  • It takes close to two decades to research and bring out a new antibiotic to the market.
  • Taking the wrong kind or inappropriate dosage of antibiotics will make the body lose the ability to combat bacteria when the real need arises.
  • Self-prescription of antibiotics can cause the bacteria to overpower them in the long run. This will lead to a dearth of antibiotics and treatments to cure infections. (Source: www.nhs.uk)