It must immediately be said that self-medicating with antibiotics is dangerous. We emphasize the word dangerous : “not only inappropriate or contrary to common sense, but also highly risky to health, for a variety of reasons”.
When you self-medicate with antibiotics, you endanger your health due to the side effects that could result from it. But doing so also promotes the emergence of resistances. In other words, if you need to use this antibiotic again in the future, it may no longer have any effect.
The issue is not limited to the effects it can have on one’s health and life, it is possible that this conduct has a collective impact , even worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance is u ne of the most important threats to world health.
Self-medicating with antibiotics?
We talk about self-medication when a person decides to take a drug without first having received a diagnosis, a prescription or a visit from a doctor. This is a common practice in many places, where the regulation of the use of medicines is not very strict.
There are over-the-counter medications, which means you can buy them without a prescription. These are drugs for treating minor symptoms, such as headache, cough, stomach acid. However, they come with warnings about their use that you shouldn’t ignore.
Antibiotics, in particular, should never be taken without a prescription. However, pharmacies distribute many without this requirement being necessary.
There are also people who use a previous prescription, issued when they had symptoms of infection. This is a completely inadvisable practice. In the following lines we will see why.
The main risk that comes from inappropriate use of antibiotics is that of developing resistance to them. When a doctor prescribes them, it means that he has identified a bacterial (and not viral) infection and believes that the drug can help overcome it.
When it comes to antibiotics, the dose and duration of treatment are very important. These aspects are established by the doctor on the basis of his knowledge and the state of health of the patient. In order for the treatment to be effective and the subject to be safe, the drugs must be taken exactly in the manner prescribed by the professional.
If the antibiotics are not taken correctly, it could happen that the bacterium develops mutations : in particular, a mutation that makes it able to resist the drug. Consequently, if in the future we suffer from an infection caused by the same bacterium, the antibiotic in question will no longer be of any use and doctors will have fewer resources available to help us overcome the disease.
Self-medicating with antibiotics: other effects
Self-medicating with antibiotics not only puts you at risk of developing resistance, but can have other health effects, which in some cases can be serious. The most important are the following:
- Side effects. Each drug can cause side effects that can include headache, nausea and diarrhea, but also seizures or anaphylactic shock.
- Individual characteristics. If you are suffering from another disease or if your state of health presents some peculiarities, the antibiotic can aggravate the conditions and even impose the need for urgent hospitalization.
- Intoxication. An inadequate dose can lead to excess intoxication.
- Inadequate interaction. If you are taking other medicines, taking antibiotics can reduce or increase the effect of the other medicines.
The consequences for society
One of the most serious consequences deriving from the practice of self-medicating with antibiotics consists in creating the favorable conditions for the birth of a superbug, such as those that have plagued the world in recent years. Excessive or inappropriate use of antibiotics is one of the main causes behind this phenomenon.
According to the American Society of Infectious Diseases (IDSA), diseases caused by microorganisms such as staphylococci have become extremely resistant, even to the most potent antibiotics. In this country, these diseases kill more people than AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and homicides do.
Another cause for alarm in the world is represented by tuberculosis, which is proving to be increasingly resistant to every antibiotic, to the point that today it kills about two million people a year. Pneumonia and sepsis are two other good examples of this phenomenon.
The World Health Organization has stated that by continuing to take these drugs incorrectly, many infections that are perfectly treatable today will become fatal within 10 years. For all these reasons, one should never self-medicate with antibiotics.