When children get sick, their parents just want them to get better as quickly as possible. But antibiotics aren’t always the answer. Antibiotics can be powerful tools for fighting bacterial infections, but using them too much or in the wrong situations can actually make your child sicker over the long term.
Overusing antibiotics can create stronger, more resistant bacteria. This means that when your child has an illness that truly calls for antibiotic use, the drugs may not work as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most urgent health problems.
Antibiotics are only effective for bacterial infections. They don’t cure or shorten the length of viral infections such as the common cold, sore throats (except those caused by strep, a bacterial infection), flu and infections that cause vomiting and diarrhea. Viral infections are much more common in children than bacterial infections; children typically get between seven and 10 viral infections a year.
If your child has a bacterial infection such as strep throat, pneumonia, an ear infection or a urinary tract infection and your doctor prescribes antibiotics, it’s important to follow the steps outline below.
• Complete the entire course of prescribed antibiotics, even after your child starts feeling better. This will help fully eliminate the infection.
• Throw away all leftover medication after treating your child. To learn how to properly dispose of the medication to protect people, animals and the environment, call the California Poison Control System at (800) 222-1222 or visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website at fda.gov.
• Never share your child’s antibiotic medication with other children. Doctors often prescribe antibiotics for children based on weight, so the dose may not be appropriate for another child. Also, it may not be the right medication for the child’s illness.
• Watch for common side effects of antibiotics, such as allergic reactions and an upset stomach, which may also include nausea and loose stools.
If antibiotics aren’t the answer for your child’s illness, then the best thing to help your child’s body fight the infection is plenty of rest and fluids. If your child’s condition doesn’t improve within the first two or three days of the course of antibiotics, it’s best to check in with his or her doctor.
We all want our children to feel well and flourish. Following your doctor’s advice about when to administer antibiotics is an important way to keep your child healthy over the long term.
Dr. Stephanie C. Chian is a pediatrician at the Fremont Center of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
The Palo Alto Medical Foundation and column editor Arian Dasmalchi provide this monthly column.