But not all bacteria are harmful. Various species of bacteria start to colonize in the body as soon as we are born. These types of bacteria are harmless and offer health benefits such as aid in digestion.
On the other hand, pathogenic bacteria are harmful. They can cause infections and diseases. Bacterial infections can become severe and lead to life-threatening complications.
If you suspect that you have an infection, consult your doctor as soon as you can to prevent the worsening of your symptoms and address the problem immediately.
Signs and Symptoms of Bacterial Infection
People of all ages can develop a bacterial infection. It can happen in any area of the body such as lungs, bladder, skin, intestines, brain, and others. Infection due to the growth of bacteria may spread through the blood and cause a condition called sepsis.
If you have an infection, you can experience common symptoms like chills, fever, and fatigue. These symptoms result from infections anywhere in the body.
Aside from generalized symptoms, you may also experience the local effects of the bacterial infection. It refers to the affected area or areas of the body. There will be redness, swelling, pain, as well as organ dysfunction.
Pain is a common symptom of bacterial infections. You will experience painful breathing if you have a lung infection, skin pain with bacterial skin infection, and pain in the abdomen with an intestinal infection.
Redness and swelling can be seen in visible areas of the body like the skin, ears, or throat. In most cases, a bacterial infection also causes internal organs to become red and swollen. You may not see it, but you will feel the pain and discomfort in these areas. For instance, a thick mucus comes with a productive cough when there is an infection of the respiratory tract.
Likewise, you may also experience reduced or altered function when the areas of the body are infected. Some examples are decreased kidney function with pyelonephritis and impaired concentration with Meningitis.
Moreover, different bacterial infections come with various characteristic courses. The symptoms may start immediately or after its incubation period. The symptoms may worsen rapidly or develop slowly.
Causes of Bacterial Infection
Harmful bacteria can be transmitted and cause bacterial infections. You may become exposed to bacteria from other infected people, from taking contaminated food or water, or from the environment.
Children and adults can become sick when exposed to bacteria. However, a weak immune system or when using immunosuppressive medication may make you more susceptible to develop a severe bacterial infection.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A bacterial infection is diagnosed based on the pattern of the symptoms. Your healthcare provider may look at your medical history and symptoms. Certain diseases have characteristics identifiable with the timing, location, and severity of symptoms.
After cross-checking your medical records with the physical examination of your condition and the visible symptoms, your doctor may want to verify the diagnosis before giving medications. They may take a sample that will be examined in a laboratory.
Infected areas of the skin, throat, or ear can be swabbed and evaluated. In some cases, they may also get pus samples from the area. In the case of sexually transmitted infections, a fluid sample from the infected area will be examined.
For suspected bacterial infection inside the body, your doctor may order urine or fecal samples for evaluation. A urine sample will help doctors determine the type of infection in your kidneys and bladder. Likewise, a fecal sample will point to the cause of persistent gastrointestinal problems.
There are also instances when a blood test is used to identify the type of infectious bacteria that is causing your illness. In most cases, a bacterial infection will cause a high number of white blood cells, and this is detected through a complete blood count.
Your blood test result will reveal whether certain types of white blood cells have increased in your system. Various kinds of WBC work together to help fight infections. Different infections cause an increase in different types of WBC, and this pattern will help healthcare professionals determine the kind of disease you have.
If a bacterial abscess is suspected in your internal organs, your doctor may also request an imaging scan to make a proper diagnosis. Some imaging studies that may be used are X-ray, CT Scan, and MRI.
Treatment of Bacterial Infection
In most cases, the bacterial infection quickly resolves on its own. It may get better even without treatment. On the other hand, many types of bacterial infections require treatment with prescription antibiotics. Additionally, some patients also need supportive care for accompanying symptoms like pain, swelling, fever, cough, and dehydration.
More so, untreated bacterial infection can linger and spread. It can lead to significant health problems. And while it is rare, untreated bacterial infection can lead to a life-threatening condition called sepsis.
Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics based on the kind of bacteria that caused your infection. Most medicines work against more than one type of bacteria, but it does not work against all classes.
Antibiotics are administered in several ways. It can be through oral, topical, or intravenously given. If you are given prescription antibiotics, make sure to follow instructions. For instance, do not use topical antibiotics on your eyes. It is also crucial for you to complete the duration of your prescribed medication.
Supportive Care and Treatment
Doctors may also give you pain and anti-inflammatory medication to reduce swelling and pain due to bacterial infection. In case of a fever, you will also be given medicines to lower your fever. Generally, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are used to reduce swelling, pain, and fever.
In the case of a lung infection and painful coughing, your doctor may also recommend anti-cough medication. You may also be placed on IV fluids to keep you hydrated.
Bacterial infections may also lead to an abscess, and it requires surgical treatment. For superficial abscess in the skin, the procedure will be unaffected. But if it is located inside the body, such as the brain or the intestine, it will require surgical procedures.
What are Normal Conditions?
There are colonies of bacteria found in the human body, particularly in the gastrointestinal tract. These bacteria are not harmful, and they play an essential role in a person’s immunity and digestion. Many people would eat yogurt after finishing a course of antibiotic treatment to repopulate the helpful bacteria that live in the GI tract.
Probiotics or the good bacteria in the GI tract help shorten the duration of diarrhea and protects you from diarrheal illness caused by antibiotics. It reduces abdominal pain, bloating, and gas associated with irritable bowel syndrome.
Preventing Bacterial Infections
Here are some tips to keep in mind to avoid becoming sick due to bacterial infection.
- Vaccination – most bacterial infections can be prevented with vaccines. You can get vaccinated against illnesses like tetanus, whooping cough, and Meningitis.
- Moisturize skin – dry, cracked skin can get infected, so always take care of your skin.
- Practice Good Hygiene and Sanitation – Always wash your hands before taking meals and after using the toilet. If your hands are unclean, do not touch your nose, face, or mouth. Regular showers and baths may also help wash off harmful bacteria on your skin.
- Do not share personal items – things like drinking glasses and toothbrushes should not be shared with other people as it can easily transmit bacteria.
- Cook Food Properly – eating undercooked or raw food can cause food poisoning.
- Clean Wounds – make sure to clean wounds as soon as possible. Likewise, touch the wound with clean hands and avoid scratching the area. Change bandages or dressing per doctor’s instructions.
- Apply antibiotic ointment on wounds – it can help keep bacteria out of your broken skin and prevent bacterial infection.
- Practice Safe Sex – most sexually transmitted bacteria cause infections. Use a condom and have regular screenings for STI to prevent diseases like gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Risks of Having Bacterial Infections
People of all ages are likely to experience some bacterial infections throughout their life. These types of infections can cause a variety of symptoms, and some can cause severe illnesses.
Doctors can diagnose bacterial infections based on several clinical features. In some cases, these infections require prescription medicines to get better. Never try to use antibiotics without prescription or use an old prescription when you are sick. The infection can get worse, or you can develop bacterial resistance if you will unnecessarily use medications.
When to Seek Medical Attention?
Consult your doctor for bacterial infection with these associated symptoms:
- Persistent cough, or coughing up pus
- Difficulty breathing
- Unexplained swelling or redness of the skin
- Frequent vomiting and trouble holding liquids
- Persistent Fever
- Blood in urine, stool or vomit
- Frequent vomiting
- Severe headache
- Severe abdominal pain or cramping
- Cut, burn or incision that seems infected
- A sore throat that lasts more than two days