Antibiotics are a common and important group of drugs that treat bacterial infections. Some antibiotics attack or break down the cell walls of bacteria, while others inhibit their production of proteins. This either kills the bacteria or prevents it from reproducing and spreading.
Oral antibiotics are available in liquid, tablet and capsule form. Topical antibiotics include skin creams, sprays, and ointments. Eye ointments, eye drops, and ear drops are also available. Serious infections may require injected or intravenous antibiotics.
Healthcare professionals prescribe different antibiotics to treat conditions such as strep throat, bronchitis, and inner ear infections. In this case, these infections are moderate to severe and have not improved with other treatments.
Antibiotics do not treat viral illnesses, such as the common cold, the flu, or mono.
These drugs are grouped according to their antibacterial activity and their chemical structure. Specific antibiotics fight certain bacteria, so it’s important to take the right kind. A healthcare professional may order a lab culture test to determine which antibiotics you need.
Read on to learn more about the most common types of antibiotics and the infections they treat. We’re also exploring common side effects of antibiotics, which can include gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, as well as more serious effects.
Here are some of the most common types of antibiotics that doctors prescribe.
Penicillins are a common treatment for a variety of skin conditions. They also treat infections of the middle ear, kidneys and blood. Penicillin antibiotics are effective in killing Staphylococci and Streptococci infections. But some bacteria are resistant to penicillin, due to overuse.
Common penicillin antibiotics include:
- amoxicillin with clavulanic acid
- penicillin V
- penicillin G
Potential side effects include:
- abdominal pain
- yeast infection
- liver disease
Penicillin can cause allergic reactions, such as rash, hives, and difficulty breathing.
Some drugs that can interact with penicillin include oral contraceptives and the anti-inflammatory drugs aspirin and probenecid.
Cephalosporins often treat gonorrhea, pelvic inflammatory disease, and sinusitis. They also treat urinary tract infections (UTIs), epididymo-orchitis and cellulitis. Often, doctors prescribe cephalosporins for people who are allergic to penicillin.
Common cephalosporin antibiotics include:
Tetracyclines are a group of antibiotics with anti-inflammatory properties that can treat many bacterial infections. They usually treat chest, urethral, ââand pelvic infections. Tetracyclines also treat inflammatory skin conditions, such as acne, rosacea, and perioral dermatitis.
Common tetracycline antibiotics include:
Children under 12 and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take tetracyclines as they can stain developing teeth.
They can also cause inflammation or irritation of the esophagus. To avoid this, be sure to take doxycycline while sitting or standing and have plenty of water. Also, it is a good idea to avoid sun exposure, as doxycycline causes photosensitivity, which can lead to sunburn.
Finally, it is best to take this type of antibiotic after eating to prevent nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Minocycline has more potential side effects than doxycycline, although it is less likely to cause photosensitivity. Possible side effects of minocycline include drug hypersensitivity syndrome, autoimmune reactions, dizziness, and headache. In addition, its use for a long time can cause blue pigmentation of the skin and nails.
Drugs that may interact with tetracyclines include:
- systemic retinoids, such as acitretin, isotretinoin, and alitretinoin
- oral contraceptives
Macrolides are a group of antibiotics with anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties. They can treat strains of bacteria resistant to penicillin. They are also a suitable option for people who are allergic to penicillin or cephalosporin.
These antibiotics commonly treat skin, soft tissue, respiratory and sexually transmitted infections, including chlamydia. Healthcare professionals use them, for example, to treat skin conditions like acne, rosacea, erythrasma and tinea lichenoids.
Types of macrolides include:
Macrolides, especially erythromycin and clarithromycin, can interact negatively with some drugs. Reactions and toxicity are more common in the elderly and in people with kidney or liver dysfunction.
Drugs that may interact with macrolides include:
- calcium channel blockers, such as verapamil
- blood thinners, including warfarin and dabigatran
Fluoroquinolones, also called quinolones, can fight bacterial infections that are life threatening or difficult to treat. However, they are linked to antimicrobial resistance, so you shouldn’t take them unless absolutely necessary.
Fluoroquinolones are the first-line treatment for prostatitis, as well as severe cases of salmonellosis and shigellosis. Doctors also often use them to treat some cases of epididymo-orchitis, gonorrhea and tuberculosis. Sometimes fluoroquinolones treat urinary tract, eye, and ear infections.
Types of fluoroquinolone include:
For people with kidney disease, taking this type of medicine may require adjustments in the dosage of other medicines. And, rarely, fluoroquinolone can cause serious side effects, especially in the elderly.
Potential side effects include:
- tendon rupture
- rupture or dissection of an aortic aneurysm
- aortic and mitral regurgitation
- central nervous system excitement and seizures
- Prolongation of the QT interval
- other heart conditions
Sulfonamides, also called sulfonamides, are a type of synthetic antimicrobial that doctors prescribe when first-line treatments are ineffective or contraindicated. The most common type is sulfamethoxazole with trimethoprim, called cotrimoxazole. It treats conditions such as pneumocystis pneumonia and nocardiosis in people with weakened immunity, as well as lower urinary tract infections in children.
Types of sulfa drugs include:
- sulfamethoxazole with trimethoprim
- sulfadiazine silver
Sulfonamides are dangerous during pregnancy because they increase the risk of miscarriage.
Potential side effects include:
Drugs that may interact with sulfonamides include:
Types of glycopeptides include:
Below, find answers to common questions about antibiotics.
What is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria survive or resist antibiotic treatment. Bacteria change and mutate to protect themselves after coming into contact with an antibiotic or other bacteria. Once one type of bacteria is resistant, it passes these genes on to other bacteria, which continue to grow. Eventually, they create a new strain of bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
Overuse and abuse of antibiotics increases the risk of antibiotic resistance. Over time, this can lead to a shortage of drugs that can effectively treat common infections.
How can I prevent antibiotic resistance?
To prevent antibiotic resistance, avoid taking antibiotics unless it is essential. Do not take them for viral infections, such as a cold or the flu. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions about how much to take and when. To prevent infections, regularly clean your hands and living areas and take steps to strengthen your immune system.
Are there natural antibiotics?
Natural antibiotics include honey, thyme essential oil, and oregano essential oil. Garlic, cranberry and myrrh extracts also have antibiotic properties. Several herbs are effective antibiotics, including echinacea, turmeric, and ginger.
Natural UTI treatments include D-mannose and uva ursi, as well as green teas, parsley, mint and chamomile.
You can experiment with different combinations of natural treatments to find out which are most effective for your needs.