How Does an Antibiotic Work?


Antibiotics are perceived as an ideal solution for any bacterial infection, and rightly so. Antibiotics are produced by microorganisms and comprise a range of potent drugs and medicines to treat bacterial diseases and infections.

How Does an Antibiotic Work

What are Bacteria?

Bacterium (plural – bacteria) is a cell that lives in a diverse environment, inside the human body and outside – in the soil, water, etc. Bacteria are both constructive and destructive in nature. They help in digestion and give the body nutrition as in the form of yoghurt and cheese (produced from the bacteria lactobacillus or streptococcus), but the destructive or infectious bacteria cause sickness.

In a nutshell, the good bacteria keep the bad bacteria in check and are responsible for a healthy and smooth functioning of the body. The bad bacteria, however, damage the body tissues and thus need to be treated.

What is an Antibiotic?

Antibiotic  is a type of antimicrobial agent that is used to treat bacterial infections. Antibiotic treatment helps by disrupting the essential processes or structures in the bacterial cell.

An antibiotic can affect the microbial targets in either broad spectrum or a narrow spectrum. The broad-spectrum antibiotics work on a wide range of bacteria population (it sometimes kills the good bacteria too). The narrow spectrum antibiotics target a limited or specified group of bacteria.

Why are Antibiotics Important?

Our immune system is structured in a way that it can, on its own, handle a host of microbial infections in the surrounding. However, when harmful bacteria are in excessive amount, the body needs antibiotics to fight them off.

Antibiotics were discovered with the aim to help our immune system combat various bacteria. Its discovery drastically brought down the number of deaths that happened due to infectious diseases. They improved the human life expectancy and revolutionized the traditional way of medical treatment.

How does an Antibiotic Work?

An antibiotic agent treats bacterial infection by either killing the bacteria (bactericidal) or stopping/slowing down the bacterial growth (bacteriostatic). Antibiotics destroy or break a bacterial infection by targeting:

  • On the cell wall or the outer covering of the bacterial cell
  • The nucleic acids DNA and RNA
  • The system that produces proteins.

It is important to note that antibiotics cannot distinguish between the good and the bad bacteria. Therefore, it is advisable to strictly follow the doctor’s prescription regarding the dose and duration of antibiotic treatment.

What is Antibiotic Resistance?

Antibiotic resistance develops in case of overuse, misuse or incorrect use of an antibiotic. The two main factors that cause antibiotic resistance include:

  1. Bacterial Adaptation: bacteria tend to develop a mechanism to resist the antibiotic action in case of misuse or overuse of an antibiotic. As a result of it, the antibiotic drug becomes ineffective against the bacteria, thereby causing antibiotic resistance.
  2. Patient/People Factor: when a patient takes antibiotics irrationally, or doesn’t practice good hygiene, these factors play a breeding ground for the bacteria to grow and eventually become resistant to the drug.

Antibiotic Resistance

Some of the serious consequences of antibiotic resistance are:

  • Worsened immunity and a major threat to the cure for the common bacterial infections, such as tuberculosis, pneumonia
  • Need of newer and stronger antibiotics to kill bacterial infections, which will not just be time-consuming and expensive, but may not even be a feasible solution to many
  • Evolution of ‘superbugs’, which would be resistant to various antibiotics
  • Rise in the mortality rate

How to Prevent Antibiotic Resistance?

Protecting yourself from antibiotic resistance is the only way to prevent it. It will be important to:

  • Not mistake a viral infection (such as cold, flu) to a bacterial one, as antibiotics are not effective against viruses. They treat bacterial infections.
  • Always complete the treatment course, even if you feel better halfway through. An incomplete antibiotic therapy may not kill off all the bacteria. The remaining bacteria may then become resistant and cause infection to relapse, ensuing the need of a new and costly antibiotic treatment course.
  • Use antibiotic drugs strictly as per the doctor’s prescription.

Antibiotics are believed to be powerful medicines that save us from harmful bacterial infections, but it is judicious to take them only under medical guidance to ensure safety and good health. So, stay aware, stay healthy.

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