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Intravenous (IV) administration of antibiotics is a rapid and effective means to reach systemically therapeutic levels of medication, usually adequate to effectively fight an infection. Contained within small IV bags known as piggybacks, IV antibiotics are administered through a secondary tubing set plugged into an IV fluid administration line or directly into an indwelling IV catheter hub. Whether administered to hospital inpatients or — increasingly — to home health patients recovering on an outpatient basis, this form of antibiotics have a higher potential for both side effects and complications, which stems from their rapid infusion, the types of antibiotics used, and the overall health of the patient. Side effects can include nausea, rashes, itching, diarrhea, and yeast infections.
As a drug class, antibiotics in general have a relatively high incidence of side effects in the population. One of the most common is an allergic reaction, which can lead to itching and hives or even a potentially lethal episode of anaphylactic shock, characterized by swelling of the patient's airway and an inability to breathe. Allergic reactions may occur the first time a patient takes a given medication or may develop following multiple uneventful exposures or administrations. The rapid and systemic administration of IV antibiotics means that allergic side effects may occur very quickly and with serious consequences.
Most side effects of antibiotics have to do with their effects on body systems unaffected by the targeted infection. Unfortunately, these drugs cannot differentiate between "good" germs necessary for the gastrointestinal (GI) system to work properly and the "bad" germs that are causing a patient's disease. As a result, the common side effects of antibiotics given by IV include GI upset, diarrhea, yeast infections and oral yeast infections, known as thrush. Side effects also vary according to the antibiotic's family of classification, though some are unique to particular medications. Antibiotics in the tetracycline family — including tetracycline, doxycycline and minocycline — are known to cause sunburns with minimal sun exposure.
IV antibiotics have a greater potential for complications than do those administered orally. The IV cannula site offers a greater chance of localized or systemic infection because of the interruption of the skin barrier. Phlebitis, or irritation of the vein used for the IV administration, may develop. Some antibiotics can also cause cellulitis if the medication leaks into and irritates the surrounding tissue.