When your child is sick—maybe with a cough, sore throat, or earache—you want to help right away. Many illnesses clear up on their own, though, with a little time. For symptoms that seem serious enough to visit a doctor, you or your pediatrician might be thinking about a prescription for antibiotics.
Although antibiotics can help with some illnesses, they have side effects. That’s why Dr. Rita Mangione-Smith, pediatrician and executive director of Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, says, “We tell parents, ‘Why expose your child to a drug when you don’t need to? For an illness that gets better on its own, we want to let that recovery happen.’”
Some parents might ask: Why not give my child antibiotics, just in case? The reason is these medicines can lead to short-term problems such as:
Also, giving children antibiotics they don’t need now can add to future problems. These include:
Resistant bacteria are those no longer stopped by antibiotics. If a child carries them and they cause an infection, it will be difficult to treat.
Dr. Mangione-Smith has done extensive research on reducing antibiotic overuse among children by improving doctor-parent communication. She suggests talking with your pediatrician to make sure your child gets the right treatment and takes antibiotics only when needed. Here are questions that can help you know what to expect and how to help your child recover.
If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, ask:
Whether the illness is treated with antibiotics or not, ask:
A few simple treatments might help your child feel better, says Dr. Mangione-Smith. They include:
To help your family stay healthy, keep up-to-date on the latest information about when to use and when not to use antibiotics. Here are some resources: