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What Are the Most Common Antibiotics?

By Karize Uy
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

Generally, all common antibiotics are grouped together in classes, depending on how they destroy bacteria, and which specific bacteria strains and infections they can treat. Two of the most prescribed antibiotics are penicillin and the cephalosporins. These two antibiotic groups function similarly by destroying the bacteria’s cell walls and making them vulnerable. Other classes of antibiotics are the macrolide and the aminoglycosides. These two classes work by binding themselves to the bacteria and inhibiting their protein creation, thus stopping them from multiplying.

Penicillin is probably the most common antibiotic and also one of the oldest, discovered by Alexander Fleming in the late 1920s. Among its varieties, penicillin V is most effective when taken orally and can be drunk for bacterial infections like tonsillitis, gingivitis, and even mild anthrax. Penicillin G, on the other hand, is the type that is introduced through the veins and can be used to treat syphilis, gonorrhea, and pneumonia. Other popular penicillin varieties include amoxicillin and ampicillin, both of which have a spectrum that is broader, hence they are used to treat bacterial strains that are immune to penicillins V and G.

Another common antibiotics group is cephalosporins. This medication functions similarly to penicillin, but bacteria has less tendency to be resistant to cephalosporins. These antibiotics are grouped together in four “generations,” with each succeeding one, gaining a wider spectrum against different bacteria strains. Cephalosporins can treat throat infections like tonsillitis and pharyngitis, lung infections like bronchitis, and different skin infections. They can also be taken to combat bone infections.

The tetracycline group of antibiotics is also used often to treat infections, but might be less effective as bacteria tends to be more resistant. Just like other antibiotics, it can treat respiratory infections in the throat, lungs, and intestinal and urinary tract infections (UTI). Tetracyclines are also common antibiotics for skin disorders such as rosacea and acne and can usually be obtained as topical creams under a dermatologist’s prescription. Tetracycline varieties include minocycline, doxycycline, and tetracycline.

Another group of antibiotics used for acne is the macrolide antibiotics. The most common variant of the macrolide is erythromycin, which can also be topically applied to acne-covered areas. Other variants are clarithyomycin and azithromycin, which is especially effective for respiratory infections. These common antibiotics should be used with extra caution to avoid toxicity in the liver.

For several severe cases of bacterial infections, the aminoglycoside group of antibiotics can be very effective and is usually introduced intravenously. Aminoglycosides also work like macrolides, preventing the bacteria from creating more proteins. These common antibiotics can also be partnered with other antibiotics like penicillin for a more effective treatment. Bacterial resistance is one of the group’s drawbacks, so a proper intake of the medication is key. One of the most common types of aminoglycoside is streptomycin, which can be used against tuberculosis.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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