You've taken medicine before. How did it work to
make you better? And how did the doctor know to give you the right medicine for your
Let's find out.
A Rainbow of Medicine
One medicine might be a pink liquid, another medicine might come in a special mist,
another might be a blue pill, and still another might come out of a yellow tube. But
they're all used for the same purpose — to make you feel better when you're
Most medicines today are made in laboratories and many are based on things found
in nature. After a medicine is created, it is tested over and over in many different
ways. This lets scientists make sure it's safe for people to take and that it can
fight or prevent an illness.
Some new medicines actually are new versions of old medicines that have been improved
to help people feel better quicker.
Medicines Can Replace What's Missing
Sometimes a part of the body can't make enough of a certain substance, and this
can make a person sick. When someone has type
1 diabetes (say: dye-uh-BEE-tees), the pancreas (a body organ that is part of
the digestive system) can't make enough of an important chemical called insulin,
which the body needs to stay healthy.
If your body makes too much of a certain chemical, that can make you sick too.
Luckily, medicines can replace what's missing (like insulin) or they can block production
of a chemical when the body is making too much of it.
Most of the time when kids get sick, the illness comes from germs
that get into the body. The body's immune
system works to fight off these invaders. But the germs and the body's natural
way of germ fighting, like getting a fever, can make a person feel ill. In many cases,
the right kind of medicine can help kill the germs and help the person feel better.
Medicines Help in Many Ways
People take medicines to fight illness, to feel better when they're sick, and to
keep from getting sick in the first place.
When deciding which medicine to give a patient, a doctor thinks about what is causing
the patient's problem. Someone may need to take more than one type of medicine at
the same time — one to fight off an infection and one to help the person feel
better, for example.
When it comes to fighting illnesses, there are many types of medicines. Antibiotics
(say: an-ty-by-AH-tiks) are one type of medicine that a lot of kids have taken. Antibiotics
kill germs called bacteria,
and different antibiotics can fight different kinds of bacteria. So if your doctor
found out that streptococcal bacteria were causing your sore throat, he or she could
prescribe just the right antibiotic.
Pain Relievers and Symptom Soothers
But while the antibiotic is starting to fight the bacteria, you might still feel
achy and hot, so the doctor might tell your parent to also give you a pain reliever.
Pain relievers can't make you well, but they do help you feel better while you're
Cream that helps a bug bite stop itching is another example. Your cold had to go
away on its own, just like the bug bite needed to heal on its own, but in the meantime,
these medicines helped you feel less sick or itchy.
Many people also take medicines to control illnesses that don't completely go away,
such as diabetes, asthma, or
high blood pressure. With help from these medicines, people can enjoy life and avoid
some of the worst symptoms of their illnesses.
Finally, there are important medicines that keep people from getting sick in the
first place. Some of these are called immunizations
(say: ih-myoo-nuh-ZAY-shunz), and they are usually given as a shot. They prevent people
from catching serious illnesses like measles and mumps. There is even an immunization
that prevents chickenpox,
and many people get a flu shot
each fall to avoid the flu. Although shots are never fun, they are a very important
part of staying healthy.
Many Ways to Take Medicine
Medicines are given in different ways, depending on how they work best in the body.
A lot of medicines are swallowed, either as a pill or a liquid. Once the medicine
is swallowed, the digestive juices in the stomach break it down, and the medicine
can pass into the bloodstream. Your blood then carries it to other parts of your body
where the medicine works best.
But some medicines wouldn't work if the stomach's digestive juices broke them down.
For example, insulin is given as a shot under the skin and then it can be absorbed
into the bloodstream.
Other medicines would take too long to work if they were swallowed. When you get
an IV in the hospital the medicine gets into your blood quickly. Other medicines need
to be breathed into the lungs where they work best for lung problems, like some of
the medicines used to treat asthma.
Still others work best when they are put directly on the spot that needs the medicine
— like patting ointment on an infected cut or dropping ear drops into a clogged-up
Mind Your Medicines
So medicines sound like a pretty good thing, right? In many cases they are —
as long as they are used correctly. Too much of a medicine can be harmful, and old
or outdated medicines may not work or can make people sick. Taking the wrong medicine
or medicine prescribed for someone else is also very bad news.
You should always follow your doctor's instructions for taking medicine —
especially for how long. If your doctor says to take medicine for 10 days, take it
for the whole time, even if you start to feel better sooner. Those medicines need
time to finish the job and make you better!