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What are the Risks of Antibiotics Use?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are a number of risks of antibiotics use that should be weighed when considering the decision to use antibiotics. Historically, overprescription of antibiotics was a significant problem, in part due to pressure from patients, and doctors are currently rethinking the way that these drugs are prescribed and used. Patients who educate themselves about the risks of taking antibiotics can make more informed choices about the medications they take.

One of the biggest risks is a community risk, that of increased antibiotic resistance. The more often antibiotics are prescribed, the more likely an organism will develop resistance. People with weakened immune systems are at serious risk if they become infected with drug-resistant organisms, and otherwise healthy individuals can die or experience serious medical complications with a resistant infection. For the good of the community as a whole, limiting antibiotic use is advised by many medical authorities.

In individuals, another of the risks of antibiotics use is that these drugs are often prescribed for conditions that they cannot treat. Ear infections, coughs, and colds are often caused by viruses, not bacteria. This conditions resolve on their own without medical treatment. Prescribing antibiotics in these cases is not necessary and exposes patients to the risks of antibiotic side effects.

Side effects of antibiotics include severe allergic reactions, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and rashes. Antibiotics kill good bacteria along with the bad and will disturb the balance of gut flora, contributing to gastrointestinal distress. Other risks of antibiotics use include harmful drug interactions. Antibiotics can react with a number of medications from hormonal birth control to blood thinners, causing potentially serious medical complications.

Risks of antibiotics use include vulnerability to opportunistic infections in people taking antibiotics and a weakened immune response in people who have used these medications heavily over the course of their lives. Some studies on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) suggest that people with weakened immune systems are at increased risk of becoming infected with HIV and that they are more likely to develop a high viral load that will progress to full-blown acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

When antibiotics are prescribed, it is recommended to ask the doctor why the drugs are being prescribed, how they should be used, and if there are alternative treatments available. Patients may want to ask if the infection will resolve on its own without a course of antibiotics. They should also ask about how to responsibly dispose of leftover medication.

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.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By icecream17 — On Jul 05, 2011

@SauteePan - I am glad that you found a way to help your daughter. I wanted to add that antibiotics and birth control may not work as well together. I read that antibiotics can interfere with the effectiveness of birth control so it may be something to consider if you are thinking of taking birth control with antibiotics.

I also would avoid antibiotics if you are pregnant. I never even took an aspirin when I was pregnant so I definitely would not be taking antibiotics. It is probably a good idea to ask your doctor how safe antibiotics are in pregnancy. There might be some variations that are better than others. I am just overly cautious when it comes to antibiotics during pregnancy.

By SauteePan — On Jul 04, 2011

I know that when my daughter got an ear infection, the doctor prescribed amoxicillin. Now I wonder if that was a good idea because an ear infection cannot be cured with an antibiotic.

I probably should have just given her some over the counter pain medicine that also reduces fever. It was just that at the time she was in pain and it was heartbreaking to see her like that and I thought that the antibiotics would work.

I have to say that after a day of taking the antibiotics she was no longer in pain which was my main concern, so I don’t know if it was healing naturally or if the antibiotics helped a little. My daughter uses ear plugs now when she gets in the water, so I don’t have this problem anymore.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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