What is antibiotic resistance?

What is antibiotic resistance?

What is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance is a medical phenomenon that is becoming more and more common, where certain antibiotics can no longer do the job they’re meant to because the bacterial infections they are supposed to fight have become resistant to them. This can make treating illnesses difficult as the treatments we used to use aren’t as effective as they once were.

Want to learn more? Let’s begin by looking at what antibiotics are and why we use them.

What are antibiotics?

Most of us have heard of antibiotics at one time or another. Antibiotics are a class of medication used to fight off bacterial infections. However, they don’t work on other types of pathogens, such as viruses, fungi or yeast infections. 

While antibiotics can be used to treat bacterial sore throat infections, such as strep throat, this is uncommon[1]. This is because similar symptoms can be caused by these other pathogens. For example, glandular fever is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, and so antibiotics wouldn’t have an effect[2]. Your doctor will examine you and ask you about your symptoms to try and determine what is causing your sore throat. This will help them to decide whether or not antibiotics are the right course of treatment. You are more likely to be prescribed antibiotics if the infection is particularly severe, you have an underlying condition, or if the infection is highly contagious.

It’s also worthwhile to be aware that not all bacterial infections will require antibiotics. In many cases, your body will fight off the infection on its own in a few days, so antibiotics aren’t needed[1]. Treat your symptoms as they come with over the counter medications such as Ultra Chloraseptic’s numbing sore throat spray, which uses a local anaesthetic to ease the pain of your sore throat while you recover. If you’re still feeling ill after a week, it’s a good idea to see your GP about more targeted treatments. 

How do antibiotics work?

Antibiotics can come in a number of forms, some of which are used to treat mild to moderate infections, others which are best for topical infections such as rashes, and others which are usually given only in hospitals for much more severe infections. You might have heard a range of different names such as penicillin, amoxicillin, rifampicin or others. These have different applications depending on your biology and the infection that needs to be treated. 

However, all antibiotics work in at least one of two ways to fight off bacterial infections. They either kill the bacteria outright or they prevent the bacteria from reproducing and spreading. In both cases, this makes it easier for your immune system to fight off the infection.

Different types of antibiotics attack in different ways, and they also affect different types of bacteria. Some antibiotics can affect lots of different bacteria – these are known as broad-spectrum antibiotics. Others are more specialised and are considered narrow-spectrum antibiotics[1]

How do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics?

When a strain of bacteria comes into contact with an antibiotic, it can learn how to defend itself and resist that type of antibiotic. This is a risk whenever antibiotics are used, which is why it is so important to only use antibiotics when they’re strictly necessary[1]

A resistant strain of bacteria will survive that particular type of antibiotic, so the infection will last for longer. This could also mean that you’re contagious for longer. If your infection is severe, not being able to treat it as quickly can be very dangerous for your health.

It’s important to know that bacteria can pass on resistance to other bacteria they come into contact with. For example, it’s possible to have both strep A bacteria and Typhoid bacteria in your body at once. If the strep A is resistant, the Typhoid could become resistant, too. This can make your Typhoid fever harder to treat[3]

So what can be done? The best way to avoid encouraging antibiotic resistance is to only take antibiotics when it is strictly necessary. Don’t take them for viral infections, or for mild bacterial infections that’ll get better on their own. And at the same, you should practise a high level of hygiene to reduce the risks of sharing bacteria between yourself and others. This can help you to avoid contracting a resistant bacterial strain from someone else[3].


[1] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/antibiotics/

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/glandular-fever/

[3] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/antibiotics/antibiotic-antimicrobial-resistance/