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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.