What Every Parent Should Know Before Giving Antibiotics to Their Child

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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