What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. They work by killing the bacteria in your body and preventing them from multiplying which rapidly relieves symptoms and greatly reduces the chances of the infection spreading to others.
Generally, we are trying to reduce the use of antibiotics, this is because antibiotic resistance is increasing. Inappropriate use of antibiotics (taking them when you don't need to) can cause the bacteria to mutate and ‘ignore’ the antibiotics, meaning bacteria multiply in your body as usual and do not respond to treatment. Antibiotic resistance is a big problem - A lot of mild bacterial infections get better on their own, so trust your doctor’s advice on whether you need them or not, that way antibiotics will continue to work in the future.
Types of antibiotic
The most widely recognised group of antibiotics are the penicillin based ones, however there are many more types of antibiotic which can largely be classified into the following groups:
Penicillins, Cephalosporins, Aminoglycosides, Tetracyclines, Macrolides and Fluoroquinolones. There are guidelines for doctors which help them choose which antibiotic will be most effective for certain infections.
Penicillins are a subgroup of antibiotics used to treat a variety of infections, but most commonly chest and skin infections. Some common penicillin antibiotics you may have heard of are: amoxicillin, flucloxacillin and phenoxymethylpenicillin. Penicillin was only recently discovered, in 1928, and is actually developed from a unique chemical released by mould!
IT IS IMPORTANT TO ALWAYS FINISH A COURSE OF ANTIBIOTICS AS YOUR DOCTOR PRESCRIBED. DO NOT STOP TAKING THEM BEFORE THE END OF TREATMENT, EVEN IF YOU FEEL BETTER. This is due to the risk of antibiotic resistance developing.
Written by Charlotte Broadbent. Reviewed by Conor McSorley