Most parents know that it’s not a good idea to beg your provider or child’s pediatrician for antibiotics — hoping to find a quick fix or relief for certain conditions doesn’t work when the medicines won’t help. Although we want to fix our children’s illnesses, antibiotics only help when an infection is caused by a susceptible bacteria.

Antibiotics are used specifically for infections caused by bacteria. In general, most common cold symptoms—such as runny nose, cough, and congestion—are mild and your child will get better without using any medicines.

Antibiotics should be used to treat infections like strep throat, whooping cough (caused by pertussis) and urinary tract infections. We just don’t want to use them for strep culture-negative sore throats, runny nose, most rashes or cold caused by viruses. When we use antibiotics at the wrong time we don’t improve the likelihood of a cure in the short-term and we set ourselves up for more antibiotic-resistant infections. Not only do antibiotics carry short-term side effects (diarrhea, rashes, sometimes allergic reactions) there is some data that early use of antibiotics in life changes long-standing risks for chronic medical conditions (things like Crohn’s disease).

Overprescribing  antibiotics affects both individuals and society as a whole. Each time a person is prescribed an antibiotic they risk having a severe reaction to the medicine. These reactions bring approximately 30,000 visitors to emergency rooms across the country every year. Antibiotics can also cause diarrhea or clostridium difficile colitis (C. diff), and early childhood exposure has even been associated with the development of asthma and Crohn’s disease. —Dr Matthew Kronman

5 Ways To Avoid Antibiotics

  1. Be an advocate: Whenever you or your child is prescribed antibiotics, ask why they are necessary. Ask about alternatives. Ask if you can “watch and wait” for 24-48 hours to see if you get better first without antibiotics. If not, use necessary antibiotics as they can be wonder drugs when necessary!
  2. Ear Infections: The first and most important medication for ear infections immediately are pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If your child is under age 2 years, has a “double ear infection,” or is in extreme pain with fever, it’s likely an antibiotic will help. If your child is over age 2 years and symptoms are controlled with pain relievers, you may want to ask about waiting before starting antibiotics. Studies show more than 50% of ear infections get better on their own without antibiotics! Also, make sure the doctor or nurse seeing your child confirms there is an infection in the middle ear, not just fluid, to meet requirements for an ear infection. Read more about what you can do for your child with ear infections.
  3. Sinusitis: Sinusitis is difficult to diagnose in children. When going in for a child’s upper respiratory infection or “cold,” ask your doctor why they think your child has sinusitis. Ask about alternatives to treatment with antibiotics. Antibiotics can be necessary when children have severe sinus symptoms, symptoms of dark mucus with fever for 3+ days, daytime cough or infection symptoms that aren’t improving.
  4. Sore throat: If your child has a cold, runny nose, cough, and sore throat, it’s unlikely to be Strep Throat. However, if your child has been exposed to strep, has fever and an isolated sore throat, head into the doctor for a strep throat swab. If the test is POSITIVE for strep, start the antibiotics. If the strep test is not positive, it’s unlikely you’ll need antibiotics. For sore throat, use ice chips, pain relievers (acetaminophen or ibuprofen), and a humidifier. Smoothies and popsicles, too!
  5. Bronchitis? Bronchitis (inflammation in the airways from a cold) and upper respiratory infections are almost always caused by viruses. Antibiotics won’t help. Discuss with your doctor why your child really needs antibiotics if these are the diagnoses given.

Because antibiotics are the most important tool we have to combat life‐threatening bacterial diseases and we don’t want to build up resistance to them for things likely caused by a virus (not bacteria). Antibiotic overuse increases the development of drug-resistant germs.

Patients, healthcare providers, hospital administrators, and policy makers must work together to employ effective strategies for improving antibiotic use – ultimately improving medical care and saving lives. Make sure you’re taking antibiotics exactly as prescribed for the shortest possible duration.

Image c/o the CDC

Image c/o the CDC


Click here for more on antibiotic stewardship & ways clinics and hospitals are working to reduce overuse of antibiotics.