December 2019Health tips

Can our friendly antibiotics become our foes?

Does a sneeze or cough sometimes send you reaching for self-prescribed antibiotics? If so, you really need to stop.

Antibiotics can be a potent force against bacteria, but not if you try to fight illnesses like the common cold or flu by taking leftover prescription drugs. These medications are not the answer to all ailments, and can present very real dangers if taken inappropriately.

“Antibiotics are not without side effects, including diarrhea, nausea and rashes,” says Ryan Kerzner, a pharmacist in the JGH Antimicrobial Stewardship Program.

“They can also cause very serious harm, such as a C. difficile infection, abnormal heart rhythms, severe allergic reactions, and more. Some antibiotics can even interact adversely with other medications.”

Another concern that has made headlines is antibiotic resistance, in which powerful drugs become unable to do their job, because the consumer develops a resistance to them. As a result, a powerful drug that is meant to be a healing friend can become an unintended enemy. In some cases, misused antibiotics can even lead to death.

According to Mr. Kerzner, it’s important for parents to have a healthcare professional perform an assessment of children who are sick. And if your doctor does prescribe a certain medication for you or your child, be sure to follow the instructions carefully, so that the antibiotics can be your staunchest ally.

“It’s important to take the antibiotics that are prescribed as ordered, since preventing infections is also of key importance,” says Mr. Kerzner.

“This can be accomplished through proper hand hygiene, staying away from people with infections, and covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing. And don’t forget to keep your children’s vaccinations up to date, as well.”

To find out more about the responsible use of antibiotics, visit Health Canada.

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