The invention of early antibiotics, namely penicillin, provided a huge advance in the treatment of infectious diseases. Antibiotics have turned many would-be fatal conditions into manageable ailments. With this success has come an overreliance on antibiotics as a fix for every cough and sniffle. This opens a Pandora's box of medical pitfalls.

One of the biggest problems with the overuse of antibiotics is an acquired resistance to the drug by the infecting bugs. Antibiotics act on bacteria which have the ability to adapt to a variety of situations and learn ways around the killing mechanisms of various antibiotics. If one of several types of bacteria is exposed to the same or similar antibiotics, these bugs can learn to outlive the effects of the drugs. The World Health Organization has stated that drug resistance is one of the major problems we face today [Source: WHO]. Some bacteria, like MRSA (methicillin resistant staph aureus) are referred to by the drug they can resist.

There is a common expectation that every cold should be treated with an antibiotic. Cold symptoms, such as runny or congested nose and cough, are typically caused by a virus. Antibiotics will not change the outcome of any illness triggered by a virus, because viruses are different types of bugs than bacteria. While it can sometimes be helpful to have an antibiotic script handy in case symptoms become worse over a seven day period, generally, this method is unnecessary. If symptoms improve on their own, money was saved and resistance was prevented. To prevent colds and flus, the body should be strengthened through a healthy diet, sunshine, plenty of water and rest.

Another contributor to the growth in antibiotic resistance is the misuse of the prescription. Antibiotics that have gone past their expiration date, for example, may be ineffective, and in some cases, dangerous. Sometimes it's tempting to take an antibiotic only until symptoms start to pass. If the antibiotic is not taken long enough to adequately kill the infecting bug, that bug may develop resistance to that drug.

Antibiotics are now included in a lot of soaps marketed for home use. These are not really necessary. For general hand washing, just use regular soap. Don't get in the habit of keeping antibiotic soaps around. Again, overexposure of the same antibiotic will allow bacteria the opportunity to build resistance to that antibiotic, rendering it useless. Bacteria are a normal part of our environment and there is no way we will eradicate them all with a hand soap.

Antibiotics have many side effects, including loose bowels or stomach upset. More rare but serious side effects include major allergic reactions and a potentially fatal condition involving the skin called Steven-Johnson syndrome. Too commonly, the antibiotic may kill the problem bug but may also kill many of the friendly bacteria residing in the colon. These good bacteria help keep our bowel walls healthy and in the manufacturing of certain vitamins. By killing off these necessary good bacteria, we openly expose our bowels to other harmful invaders, like Clostridium difficile and yeast. Yeast infections are now being recognized as a significant consequence of exposure to antibiotics.

Antibiotics are necessary and life-saving for many conditions and situations. Take probiotics for at least two weeks after completing an antibiotic regimen. This will prohibit other potential invaders, like yeast, from causing problems. The body should also be supported to lessen the need for antibiotics. Many nutrients, including vitamin C, echinacea, vitamin D, garlic and elderberry, can help strengthen the body and the immune system. Allow your body time for sleep, wash your hands (with regular soap), and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and healthy proteins. Remember that refined sugars weaken the immune system.

The ongoing success of antibiotics depends on prudent use; they should be viewed only as an option to fix those infections which the body cannot control itself. They are not without risks and should be respected. The body should also be respected for the power and potential it has to prevent infections when given the proper nutrients to do so.