What are Aminoglycosides?

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  • Written By: Jacquelyn Gilchrist
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2019
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Aminoglycosides are a class of antibiotic medication. They are used to treat bacterial infections. Examples of these medications include amikacin, neomycin, and streptomycin. In the U.S., these drugs are available by prescription only. They may be used in combination with other drugs to treat certain infections.

These antibiotics are believed to work by attacking the cell membranes of the bacteria. Aminoglycosides are only used to treat certain bacterial infections. They are effective against a type of bacteria called Gram-negative bacteria. Bacteria that react in a certain way to Gram’s stain, a method used to classify bacteria, are given this name. Aminoglycosides are not effective against viruses, fungi, and viral infections, such as influenza.

The disadvantage of using these drugs to treat an infection is that the patient cannot simply swallow a pill. These drugs do not absorb well when taken orally. Instead, they are commonly injected into a muscle or into a vein. If the infection has attacked the central nervous system, the drug can also be injected into the spinal cord. The drug may also be inhaled or applied topically to the skin.


Aminoglycosides should not be used in patients with certain pre-existing medical conditions. For example, women who are pregnant are not usually prescribed aminoglycosides, however, an exception can be made for serious infections that threaten the mother’s life. The antibiotics are not transferred through breast milk, so women who are breast-feeding can safely take aminoglycosides. Patients with Parkinson’s disease, myasthenia gravis, and kidney disease are also typically not advised to take these drugs.

People taking these antibiotics should be aware of the possible side effects. The elderly, as well as young children, are more susceptible to developing side effects. Patients may experience skin rashes, itching, and weakness. Some patients may also experience dizziness, abnormal urination, and vomiting. One of the aminoglycosides, gentamicin, may cause seizures, leg cramps, and fever when it is injected.

Aminoglycosides can be toxic to certain cells in the body, such as the kidneys and the ears. In a small number of cases, this may result in serious side effects. The damage is often reversible, in most cases, once the patient ceases taking the medication.

If the patient’s inner ear cells become damaged, dizziness and a loss of balance can result. Hearing loss and tinnitus, which is a ringing in the ears, can result if the cells in the patient’s middle ear become damaged. Patients should get immediate medical help if they develop such side effects. If the infection is serious, however, the benefits of taking these antibiotics may outweigh the risks.


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Aminoglycosides given by injection are usually used for serious bacterial infections for which other medicines may not work. However, aminoglycosides antibiotics may also cause some serious side effects, including damage to your hearing, sense of balance, and kidneys. These side effects may be more likely to occur in elderly patients and newborn infants. You and your doctor should talk about the good these medicines may do as well as the risks of receiving them.

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