It’s that time of the year again. Along with hot cocoas and cooler weather, we will start to see runny noses, sore throats and pesky coughs. When our kids are miserable, we want to do everything we can to make them feel better and it is easy to get caught-up in wanting a quick fix with antibiotics.
Antibiotics are strong medicines that can kill bacteria. However, antibiotics do not kill viruses. One of the decisions healthcare providers make every day is whether a child's infection is viral or bacterial.
"It's important to select the right antibiotic dose at the right time for the right duration," said Dr. Hudson. “We want to see children get healthy as soon as possible while avoiding the potential harms of antibiotic overuse and resistance.”
Dr. Hudson answers some common questions about antibiotic misuse and resistance.
When should antibiotics be prescribed?
Only when your child has a bacterial infection. Bacterial infections are much less common than viral infections.
- Some ear infections (but they only happen to 5% of children with a cold)
- Some sinus infections (but they only happen to 5% of children with a cold)
- 20% of sore throats (Strep throat infections)
- 10% of pneumonia (bacterial lung infection)
When should antibiotics be avoided?
When your child has a viral Infections. Viruses cause most infections in children including:
- Colds present for less than 2 weeks, unless they turn into an ear or sinus infection
- Coughs present for less than 3 weeks, unless they develop a bacterial pneumonia
- 95% of fevers
- 80% of sore throats
- 90% of pneumonia (most pneumonia in children is viral)
- 99% of diarrhea and vomiting
What are some cold symptoms that are confusing but normal?
These symptoms are sometimes mistaken as signs of bacterial infections and a reason for starting antibiotics:
- Green or yellow nasal discharge. This is usually a normal part of recovery from a cold, rather than a clue to a sinus infection.
- Green or yellow phlegm (sputum). This is a normal part of viral bronchitis, not a sign of pneumonia.
- High fevers. A high fever (over 104 F or 40 C) can be caused by a virus or a bacteria.
What are some side effects of antibiotics?
All antibiotics have side effects. Unless your child really needs an antibiotic, there is no reason to risk the side effects of the medicine. Some children taking antibiotics develop diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or a rash. The diarrhea usually occurs because the antibiotic has killed off the healthy intestinal bacteria. And if your child gets a rash, your doctor must decide if the rash is an allergic reaction to the drug or not. The biggest side effect of overuse is increasing resistance to the antibiotics.
What happens if you are given antibiotics for viral infections?
If your child has a viral illness, an antibiotic will not shorten the course of the fever or help the other symptoms. Antibiotics will not get your child back to school or you back to work sooner. If your child develops side effects from the antibiotic, he will feel worse instead of better.
What can you do to avoid antibiotic misuse and resistance?
- Save antibiotics for diagnosed bacterial infections when your child really needs them
- Don’t pressure your child’s doctor for a prescription for an antibiotic
- Treat your child’s cold and cough symptoms with home remedies that work
- Remember that fever is fighting the infection and producing antibodies to prevent future viral infections.
This cold season, remember that antibiotics are not always the answer. Instead of asking your child’s doctor for antibiotics, discuss a plan on how to make them feel better.
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About Dr. Anthony Hudson
Dr. Anthony Hudson specializes in pediatrics at Children’s Pediatrics Lakeside. After earning his medical degree from Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans, LA, Dr. Hudson completed residency at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. He is board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. Dr. Hudson serves as Chief of Pediatrics at East Jefferson Hospital in Metairie, LA.