Think before giving antibiotics to your child!! It might cause more harm than good


I know when your child has a real bad cold, it seems quite comforting to give that magic dose of antibiotic and wave a goodbye to sick days as soon as possible. But, wait and ponder through some important concerns before starting the antibiotics for kids.

First of all, most sore throats, coughs and runny nose do not require antibiotics to treat them. The rule of thumb is that antibiotics only treat bacterial infections and not a single viral infection. Viruses flourish happily inside the patient’s body, completely unaffected by the antibiotic medication. Also, taking antibiotics come with its share of risks. Adverse drug reactions or side effects like diarrhea or vomiting can occur in about 1-5 out of 100 children. Some children may have serious allergies which can be life threatening to them. Antibiotic resistant bacteria may develop at a faster rate in the whole community as a direct consequence of misuse and overuse of antibiotics without evaluating the real need with professional acumen. Such bacterial infections are almost impossible to treat with common antibiotics and need more expensive and rare antibiotics to treat.

Go through these FAQs and decide the best for your child with doctor’s guidance.

1. My child has a really bad cold. He is suffering from runny nose, cough and congestion. Will the doctor prescribe the antibiotics, as these only seem to help?

Infections, which are caused by viruses, turn to full bloom cold within one day. Child may feel better with care and proper diet and without any medicines in 3-4 days. Antibiotics will not help in combating viruses and shorten the symptoms duration.

2. I am afraid that my child’s cold will turn into bacterial infections eventually. So, may be its better to start antibiotics on time. Why wait for his condition to get worse?

Do not get scared. Bacterial infections generally do not follow viral infections. Instead, using the antibiotics without its proper indication, may lead to a secondary infection caused by the resistant bacteria. Also, side effects like nausea, diarrhea and stomach pain along with allergic reactions like rashes may occur with overuse of antibiotics.

3.  My child has a stuffy and runny nose with yellow or green mucus discharge. I think, this is an ultimate sign of bacterial infection.

On the contrary it is quite a normal pattern observed while suffering from cold to have a runny nose with transparent mucus discharge at first, turning later to a thick, ropy and colored mucus. Cold takes about 10 days to cure.

Sinusitis or the inflammation of the lining inside the nose and sinuses can also occur in severe cold. A viral infection, bacterial infection or just an allergy can also cause sinusitis. If your child is suffering from cold with cough and green mucus since more than 10 days, bacterial sinusitis may have occurred (a rare situation) and child may need the antibiotic. Fever higher than 102°F (39°C) for 3-4 days is also a signal of bacterial infection. A well-experienced doctor can see the duration and severity of symptoms closely and advise the use of antibiotics if necessary. Self-medication is always dangerous, especially in case of children.

4. My child is suffering from acute ear pain? I think he has an ear infection and doctor should be giving antibiotics to treat it.

Doctor will actually first prescribe pain and fever medicines like Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen or Crocin to ease pain and fever. Right dosage according to age and weight of the child is very important for drug effectiveness. Nearly half the ear infections go away without the use of antibiotics within couple of days. Ear drops to help with pain are also available and often prescribed by doctors. Over the counter cold medicines which are decongestants and antihistamines having nothing to do with treating ear infections and should not be given to a child suffering from ear pain.

Antibiotics are prescribed if the child’s condition worsen with higher fever and severe pain in both eardrums.

5.  Every cold starts with a sore throat. How to identify if a common cold virus or bacteria caused it?

Statistics reveal that more than 80% of sore throat cases are virus borne. If sore throat is followed by runny nose and cough, most likely virus is the culprit. If the child is suffering from high fever for more than 5 days with only sore throat, doctors test for Streptococcus bacterial infection and prescribe the antibiotics in the event of positive test. Bacterial infection generally makes school going children sick. Young children below 3 years do not usually have strep throat.

6. Do I need to call the doctor if child develops allergic symptoms during antibiotic course? Should I just stop giving the dose soon after you see the reaction?

Side effects are very common with antibiotics. Itchy rashes and hives may happen if your child is allergic to any medicine. Stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea may also result after antibiotics. Inform your child’s doctor timely, as doctor may want to change the medicine. It is very important to record these events in your child’s medical history for future considerations before prescribing the antibiotics. Stopping the antibiotic course abruptly without any alternative medication may revert back the symptoms and patient may feel all the more sick.

7.  When should my child feel better after taking the antibiotics?

It takes 48-72 hours to control the bacterial infection with an antibiotic. You should call your child’s doctor if his condition deteriorates further or do not improve within 72 hours. Always complete the full course as prescribed by the pediatrician. Otherwise, infection may not clear completely and the symptoms may reoccur.

8.  How antibiotics lead to growth of resistant bacteria?

The overuse and misuse of antibiotics without correct indication can lead to resistant bacteria, which are difficult to get killed by common antibiotics. Also, these resistant bacteria can spread to other children and adults.

It is very important that your child is given the proper antibiotic that is specific for his/her infection rather than a broad-spectrum antibiotic (antibiotic used for many kind of infections).  If your child develops an antibiotic-resistant infection, it is a serious matter and child is hospitalized and sometimes given special antibiotics intravenously.

9.  Are antiviral medicines prescribed for common cold?

Antiviral medicines are given to treat severe Influenza (flu) infections caused by Influenza viruses. These medicines are often not given in cases of common cold cough symptoms. They are prescribed for children who are at higher risk of become very sick if they get flu. Prevention is always better than cure. Yearly Influenza vaccinations can definitely protect the kids from Flu.

10.  What are the things I should keep in mind before using antibiotics for my child?

  •  Always describe your child’s symptoms well to the doctor and question him if he prescribes antibiotic. Get the assurance from doctor that antibiotics are  the best possible option for treatment in this situation
  • Always remember that Antibiotics will not work against cold and flu
  • Make sure that your child takes the full course of antibiotic and take the correct dosage as advised by the pedaitrician
  • Never self medicate your child with antibiotics based on previous medical history. Every infection is different and so is its treatment. Always consult a doctor. Do not share your child’s antibiotic with any other child.
  • Do not save the used antibiotics after the course in refrigerators for future use. Just throw away the remaining medicine as the opened or reconstituted antibiotics may become toxic and harmful.