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Antibiotics are used for infections of the respiratory system as well as for infections in other parts of the body. One group of drugs developed to counteract the growth and invasion of bacteria includes the sulfonamides or sulfa drugs, which are not really antibiotics but are often called by this term. Some individuals develop a severe allergy to these preparations. If you are allergic to one kind of sulfonamide, you should not take any drug in this family.

Penicillin is also used to treat bacterial infections. Many medications in this family are manufactured synthetically and are effective against many types of bacteria. They are called broad-spectrum antibiotics. Most penicillins end in -cillin, such as ampicillin, cloxacillin, and amoxicillin. In general, if you are allergic to one type of penicillin, you will be allergic to the others. Some allergic reactions are mild, resulting in an itchy rash. Others are more serious, causing difficulty in breathing. Sometimes the allergy risk may have to be taken if the illness is severe and if a penicillin is the only drug available. However, precautions can usually be taken to avert a serious reaction. You should obtain a Medic-Alert® bracelet that says you are allergic to penicillin, and always tell your doctor about allergies to antibiotics.

Another group of antibiotics closely related to the penicillins are the cephalosporins, also broad-spectrum antibiotics. People who are severely allergic to penicillin may also be allergic to these as well.

There are other types of antibiotics known as the aminoglycosides, including streptomycin, gentamicin, tobramycin, and netilmicin. They are usually reserved for serious infections and the medication is given by injection. Another important group is tetracycline, also a broad-spectrum antibiotic, which is used for less serious infections and is usually taken orally. This group can cause intestinal problems and may have to be stopped because of diarrhea. Erythromycin and chloramphenicol are medications that inhibit certain types of bacteria. The former is very useful for certain kinds of pneumonia but the latter must be used cautiously because it can cause a rare but severe disorder of the bone marrow.

Antibiotics can be very effective in treating infections of the respiratory system, urinary tract, intestinal system, and heart. They should not be used indiscriminately, and they should never be taken without medical supervision.


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