- Antibiotics are powerful drugs that are generally safe and very helpful in fighting disease, but there are times when antibiotics can actually be harmful.
- Antibiotics can have side effects, including allergic reactions and a potentially deadly diarrhea caused by the bacteria Clostridium difficile (C. diff). Antibiotics can also interfere with the action of other drugs a patient may be taking for another condition. These unintended reactions to antibiotics are called adverse drug events.
- When someone takes an antibiotic that they do not need, they are needlessly exposed to the side effects of the drug and do not get any benefit from it.
- Moreover, taking an antibiotic when it is not needed can lead to the development of antibiotic resistance. When resistance develops, antibiotics may not be able to stop future infections. Every time someone takes an antibiotic they don’t need, they increase their risk of developing a resistant infection in the future.
Types of Adverse Drug Events Related to Antibiotics
Allergic ReactionsEvery year, there are more than 140,000 emergency department visits for reactions to antibiotics. Almost four out of five (79%) emergency department visits for antibiotic-related adverse drug events are due to an allergic reaction. These reactions can range from mild rashes and itching to serious blistering skin reactions swelling of the face and throat, and breathing problems. Minimizing unnecessary antibiotic use is the best way to reduce the risk of adverse drug events from antibiotics. Patients should tell their doctors about any past drug reactions or allergies.
C. difficileC. difficile causes diarrhea linked to at least 14,000 American deaths each year. When a person takes antibiotics, good bacteria that protect against infection are destroyed for several months. During this time, patients can get sick from C. difficile picked up from contaminated surfaces or spread from a healthcare provider’s hands. Those most at risk are people, especially older adults, who take antibiotics and also get medical care. Take antibiotics exactly and only as prescribed.
Drug Interactions and Side EffectsAntibiotics can interact with other drugs patients take, making those drugs or the antibiotics less effective. Some drug combinations can worsen the side effects of the antibiotic or other drug. Common side effects of antibiotics include nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pain. Sometimes these symptoms can lead to dehydration and other problems. Patients should ask their doctors about drug interactions and the potential side effects of antibiotics. The doctor should be told immediately if a patient has any side effects from antibiotics.