What Every Parent Should Know Before Giving Antibiotics to Their Child

Health Check 18

child fluQuick, off the top of your head, when should your child take antibiotics: When they have a viral infection or a bacterial infection? Your doctor should know. Antibiotics help kill bacterial infections like strep and pneumonia, but they're ineffective against viral infections like chickenpox and the common cold. But apparently kids are taking antibiotics for the wrong illnesses anyway. The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to be more careful about prescribing antibiotics; inappropriate use is contributing to the explosion in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Sounds pretty cut and dried, right? Don't take antibiotics for viruses. But it's not so simple. The symptoms for viral and bacterial respiratory infections can overlap. Did you know bronchitis can be caused by either? And using antibiotics to treat bacterial infections is also contributing to the growth of resistant bacteria. If the AAP thinks pediatricians are prescribing antibiotics too much, what should parents do?

You don't hear this very often from the medical establishment, but Dr. Theoklis Zaoutis of the AAP's Committee on Infectious Diseases is urging parents to question their kids' doctors. "Talk to the doctor and say, 'Do I really need that antibiotic? What are the risks and benefits of my child taking an antibiotic?'"

antibiotics and kidsAside from the gruesome possible side-effects of taking antibiotics (we all love dealing with our kids' diarrhea, don't we?), there's the bigger picture, which is hard to see when we're dealing with a miserably sick kid: The growing epidemic of resistant bacteria. I don't know about you, but it scares the bejeezus out of me. I mean, it's bad enough that the animals we eat are needlessly shot up with antibiotics. (Seriously, when are we finally going to stop with that?!?) But what's scarier, resistant bacteria or your seriously ill child right now?

I'm glad my son has the kind of doctor who takes the "wait and see" approach. I think I'd feel differently about that if he didn't happen to have a robust immune system -- but then, maybe he wouldn't have such a robust immune system if his doctor were quicker with the antibiotics. I almost feel like some kids get caught into a meds cycle if they happen to get a serious respiratory illness as a baby -- they get that first dose of antibiotics, and that seems to put them on a path where they get prescribed more, and they get sick more often. But that's just my totally unscientific anecdotal observation of the families I know.

The important takeaway here is that if your doctor prescribes antibiotics, you need to have a conversation about that. You don't have to be confrontational -- just hash it out a bit. Is he/she sure your child has a bacterial infection? What are the risks of taking meds? Are there any other ways to treat the illness? Sometimes doctors make mistakes.

Do you think your kids get prescribed antibiotics too often or inappropriately?


Images via © monkeybusinessimages; IAN BODDY/Science Photo Library/Corbis

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sarah... sarahbell811

My two year old daughter has been on a low dose antibiotic since she was 5 months old. I worry about how it will affect her in the long run. 

monal... monalisasus

and killing all good gut flora...oh drs so qucik to medicate...thank goodness for probiotics

Adrian O'Brien

I use pro-biotics right after or during any antiboitic use.  I get mine from LuckyVitamin.com.  (they are decently priced) My mom used anti-biotics on us for EVERYTHING!  Had a cold... here take this.  Ear Ache... take this.  I used to tease my mother that if I broke my leg... my mother would still be pushing antibiotics.  It wasn't until I started taking pro-biotics that I got sick less often.

antfa... antfarmer101

When my daughter got her second ear infection in four years, her ped wrote us a prescription for amoxicillin. I asked him if she really needed it, and he said we could wait a few days and see if it would clear up on it's own, if I felt comfortable doing that. Um, yeah, I feel pretty comfortable with that. So we never did fill that one. My almost five year old has taken antibiotics once, and the two year old has never. We also don't do antibiotic soaps or hand sanitizer, and we don't go crazy disinfecting everything in sight. So while all thier friends are sick as dogs right now, my kids are still healthy as ever...

Mary Byrd Hunter

I can't count how many times I have taken my kids to the doctor, and he has told me all I can do is wait it out. I appreciate that he doesn't prescribe them medicine every time I walk in the door. 

wishf... wishfulgal

This is VERY old news -- like decades old. This can't still be happening with diseases like MERS out there now. That's rediculous.


Freela Freela

My doctor is very slow to prescribe antibiotics- which is a good thing.  There are times, however, when they actually do need them.  My kids have only been on antibiotics a handful of times and the oldest is 11. 

femal... femaleMIKE

I think the parents just want their child well quickly.  I know about antibiotics. My baby had a cold and I did nothing but use the bulb to suck out the mucus. I felt helpless, he handled it better than me. I knew that antibiotics or any other cold medications won't work.

miche... micheledo

I can't tell you the last time someone in our family has been on antibiotics. It has been at least a year and a half - and there are eight people in our house! The more I learn, the less we g oto the doctor. We treat things holistically. I would go to the doctor if what we were doing wasn't working, but so far we haven't been.

nonmember avatar NoWay

I don't like to take antibiotics, but I am on a second round of them now because I have been sick for two months. The doctor diagnosed a nasty sinus infection. The antibiotics seem to be helping a bit, but I don't know how much. :-/ My son had strep when he was around 5 or 6 years old and was on a very strong antibiotic for a few days. That's the last time I remember either of my kids using one (they are 11 and 13). Thank goodness we are generally healthy.

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