The Use and Misuse of Antibiotics in Children

With the emergence of super bugs, there’s good argument for being judicious in our use of antibiotics.

It’s hard to believe that around a half a century ago, before antibiotics became widely used, just the thought of a bacterial infection such as strep throat could put the fear of death into parents. Fortunately antibiotics have virtually wiped out many of those illnesses that at one time were considered deadly. But that is not to say that antibiotics are the answer to every fever, cough and cold. As pediatrician Dr. Alan Goldbloom explains, antibiotics are only useful when bacteria cause your child’s illness. “Probably 90% plus of all the infections young children get are caused by viruses for which antibiotics don’t work. The number of infections for which antibiotics work is still relatively small. They are used for ear, bladder and some throat infections, particularly strep throat. For all the others, the flues, colds, etc., antibiotics won’t do anything at all.”

Unfortunately, we’ve become so accustomed to using antibiotics that they have often been either over-used or misused. Pediatrician Dr. Paul Theissen says that because of this overuse “we’re seeing the emergence of serious bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics. This is the biggest concern about antibiotic abuse – the emergence of strains of very nasty bacteria for which we have no antibiotics with which to treat them.”

Besides the advent of super bugs, there are other reasons why you should use antibiotics judiciously. “The reason you don’t want to take an antibiotic if you don’t need it, is to prevent the side effects to yourself or your child,” explains Dr. Theissen. “Side effects include diarrhea, rashes, vomiting and sometimes a serious inflammation of the bowel. So there are very good reasons as to why you don’t want to take an antibiotic unless you need to.”

When a child’s illness is due to a bacterial infection, antibiotics do play an important role in treatment. Still, proper use of those antibiotics is vital says Dr. Goldbloom. “What’s really important is to complete the course of treatment. This is very difficult for a lot of parents, because the children seem to get better after three days of treatment. But often the bacteria lie around longer than the symptoms do. Therefore, for things like strep throat it often takes longer to eradicate the bacteria then it does for children to get better.”


Adapted from The Parent Report Radio Show. Any advice or information contained herein should never be a substitute for professional and/or medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. For more information please review Terms of Service.

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