Antibiotic drugs are important weapons in the health care arsenal. Unfortunately, they also represent something of two-edged sword. They can knock out potentially deadly bacterial infections in the body. But experts generally agree that overuse has allowed bacteria to develop resistance. Some antibiotics aren't as effective as they once might have been.
Another issue, as we have written about before, is that some of these drugs can have serious negative side effects. For example, there are the fluoroquinolones. They've been used for decades with some noteworthy success. But in the past decade or so they have also been the target of government warnings because they can cause peripheral neuropathy -- a nerve disorder that can affect muscles and various internal organs and systems.
Now another widely used antibiotic is coming under scrutiny. They're called aminoglycosides. Doctors depend on them to fight meningitis, bacteraemia and lung infections in those with cystic fibrosis. They are also often used to treat infants who have potentially deadly infections.
The problem is that they are also known to damage cells in the ear that detect sound and motion. And researchers say results of recent studies on mice indicate that patients who receive one of the drugs from this class run a high risk of suffering hearing loss.
This threat is not a new discovery. As one of the researchers stated in announcing the findings, "Currently, it's accepted that the price that some patients have to pay for surviving a life-threatening bacterial infection is the loss of their ability to hear."
But he also says that the data from the study reinforces that researchers need to move faster to find effective alternatives to the aminoglycosides so patients don't suffer injury from taking prescribed drugs.
In the meantime, the study's authors say doctors should think about using other types of antibiotics.