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Antibiotic Awareness

The development of antibiotics during the last century was perhaps the most important breakthrough in modern medicine, which revolutionized the treatment of infectious diseases, and saved many lives. However, this advantage could one day be lost forever, due to the development of antimicrobial resistance. Last week, the Health Service Executive (HSE) launched a new campaign to raise awareness about the correct use of antibiotics.
Antibiotics are drugs which kill the bacteria that cause various types of infection in the body. However, when antibiotics are over-used, or used inappropriately, bacteria develop ways of resisting their effects. When an entire strain of bacteria becomes resistant to most antibiotics, it is often referred to as “superbug”; the best known example of which is MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureas), which can cause incurable and sometimes fatal infections.

Research published in the Irish Medical Journal last year highlighted the fact that antibiotic use has risen sharply in recent years, and that up to 50% of antibiotic prescribing may be inappropriate. Many GPs have admitted that pressure from patients is often a factor when prescribing antibiotics. However, if antibiotics are being inappropriately prescribed on demand, it really defies the purpose of having them under prescription-only control.

Antibiotics are completely ineffective against the viruses which are responsible for the majority of winter bugs, and they do nothing to support the immune system or to help with the symptoms of the condition.  Recent research has also found antibiotics to be largely ineffective in the treatment of sinusitis and ear infections. Of course antibiotics are absolutely essential in the treatment of serious or life threatening conditions, but they are powerful drugs, which can have some serious side effects.

Antibiotics interfere with the normal balance of microflora, or “friendly bacteria” in the body, causing digestive disturbance, poor absorption of various nutrients, and overgrowth of harmful micro-organisms such as Candida albicans. Antibiotics can also have far-reaching effects on the immune system, and infections which resolve after antibiotic treatment often recur because the immune system has been damaged by the antibiotics.  The most notable examples are cystitis and ear infections, which may return time and time again and take years to fully resolve.  Studies have shown that children who are given broad-spectrum antibiotics before they are 6 months old are almost nine times more likely to develop asthma than other children.

Fortunately, many people are now aware of the dangers of antimicrobial resistance, as well as the potential side-effects of antibiotics: A comment I often hear is: “I tried to do without the antibiotics, but I had to give in the end”. However, in the case of most common infections, what is needed is neither suffering on in silence, nor rushing to the nearest GP for a prescription; but a safer, yet effective approach to dealing with the problem. Patients who attend my clinic for treatment of acute infections are often surprised at how effective herbal treatment can be.

Some herbal remedies have been found to be more effective against a range of bacteria than pharmaceutical antiseptics, and because they are much more complex than orthodox medicines they are less likely to lead to the development of resistant bacteria.  There are also a number of antiviral herbs, which are more appropriate for treating the viruses that cause a large proportion of common infective illnesses, such as respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.

In order to treat the symptoms of the infection, other herbs are used, which help to manage fever, to reduce the production of mucus, to soothe sore throats and coughs, or to ease urinary symptoms or diarrhoea. In addition, herbal medicine focuses on supporting the body’s own immune response in order to fight the infection and to help prevent future attacks.

By visiting a herbalist for the treatment of infections, you can be assured of treatment which is safe and effective for both adults and children.  At the same time you can avoid the side effects of antibiotic treatment and help to ensure that they will be effective if they do become really necessary.