Bacterial infections include a number of common infections like strep throat or urinary tract infections. While most bacterial infections aren't life-threatening, they still require treatment. Antibiotics are a common treatment method for infections.
Bacterial infections are a common type of infection that can range in severity from mild to life-threatening. Bacterial infections were linked to almost 8 million deaths worldwide in 2019, according to a report from The Lancet. These infections are caused by bacteria that can enter the body through various ways, such as cuts, contaminated food or contact with an infected person. Certain types of bacteria live in the body naturally and can even be beneficial. However, an overgrowth of bacteria that don’t normally live in the body may cause infections.
There are many different types of bacterial infections, each with its own symptoms and treatment options. Some common types of bacterial infections include urinary tract infections, strep throat and pneumonia. A healthcare provider may diagnose a bacterial infection with a physical exam and laboratory tests. However, despite their potentially life-threatening nature, most bacterial infections can be easily treated and cured with antibiotics.
What Are Antibiotics?
Antibiotics are a type of medication used to treat bacterial infections. They work by either killing the bacteria or slowing their growth. Although antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections, they can’t be used to treat viral infections, such as the common cold or flu. Antibiotics should be taken as prescribed by a healthcare provider. Skipping doses or stopping the medication early may lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which are more difficult to treat. In addition, antibiotics may cause side effects, such as nausea, diarrhea and allergic reactions.
Types of Antibiotics
There are different classes of antibiotics that may work in different ways and be taken through various means, such as orally, topically or intravenously. The type of antibiotic prescribed will depend on the type of bacteria causing the infection and the severity of symptoms.
Aminoglycosides work by blocking certain processes necessary for the bacteria to survive. By blocking these processes, aminoglycosides kill the bacteria. Some potential side effects of aminoglycosides include kidney damage, hearing loss, dizziness and muscle weakness. Aminoglycosides are typically administered directly into a vein (IV). Examples include gentamicin and tobramycin.
Carbapenems work by interfering with the bacterial cell wall, which causes the bacteria to die. Some potential side effects of carbapenems include diarrhea, nausea and skin rash. Carbapenems are typically administered intravenously (IV). Examples include meropenem and imipenem.
Cephalosporins work by interfering with the bacterial cell wall, which causes the bacteria to die. Cephalosporins are structurally similar to penicillin, so some people who are allergic to penicillin may also be allergic to cephalosporins. Some potential side effects of cephalosporins include diarrhea, nausea and skin rash. Cephalosporins can be administered by mouth or injection. Examples include ceftriaxone and cephalexin.
Fluoroquinolones work by interfering with the bacterial DNA replication process, which can prevent the bacteria from reproducing. Some potential side effects of fluoroquinolones include tendonitis, joint pain, dizziness and nausea. Fluoroquinolones can be administered by mouth, IV or topically, as eye or ear drops. Examples include ciprofloxacin and levofloxacin.
Macrolides work by interfering with bacterial protein synthesis, which can prevent the bacteria from reproducing. Some potential side effects of macrolides include diarrhea, nausea and stomach pain. Macrolides can be administered orally or IV. Examples include azithromycin, erythromycin and clarithromycin.
Oxazolidinones work by interfering with bacterial protein synthesis, which can prevent the bacteria from reproducing. Some potential side effects of oxazolidinones include diarrhea, nausea and headache. Oxazolidinones can be administered by mouth or IV. Examples include linezolid and tedizolid.
Penicillins work by interfering with the bacterial cell wall, which causes the bacteria to die. Some potential side effects include diarrhea, nausea and skin rashes. These drugs can be given either by mouth or through an injection. Examples include amoxicillin and ampicillin.
Polypeptides work by interfering with the bacterial cell membrane or cell wall, which can cause the bacteria to die. Some potential side effects of polypeptides include kidney and nerve damage when given by injection. Polypeptides are typically administered topically or by injection. Examples include colistin, polymyxin B and over-the-counter (OTC) bacitracin.
Rifamycins work by interfering with bacterial RNA synthesis, which can prevent the bacteria from multiplying. Some potential side effects of rifamycins include nausea, upset stomach and skin rash. Rifamycins are typically administered orally or intravenously, and they’re often used to treat tuberculosis infections. Examples include rifampin and rifabutin.
Sulfonamides work by interfering with bacterial folic acid synthesis, which is needed to reproduce and grow. Some potential side effects of sulfonamides include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Sulfonamides are usually administered orally or intravenously, although some can be given topically. One commonly used example is sulfamethoxazole (given with trimethoprim).
Tetracyclines function by interfering with bacterial protein synthesis, which can prevent the bacteria from reproducing. Some potential side effects of tetracyclines include photosensitivity, digestive upset and effects on bone and teeth development in children. Tetracyclines are usually taken orally, although some can be administered IV. Examples include doxycycline and minocycline.
Consult a Healthcare Provider
When you have an infection, you should speak with a healthcare provider. A healthcare provider can provide the best type of antibiotic (which depends on the type of bacteria causing the infection), instructions on the appropriate dosage, potential side effects and drug interactions linked to antibiotics. They can also advise on other warnings and precautions to take into account before starting treatment (such as taking with food or on an empty stomach). Taking an antibiotic incorrectly or stopping treatment too soon may cause antibiotic resistance, which can lead to more serious bacterial infections.