Happy Antibiotic Awareness Month! Every November the CDC and other healthcare organizations take time to remind caregivers about the dangers of antibiotics and why overusing them can be detrimental to your child’s health. So this is the perfect time to talk about antibiotics, including common conditions in children that require antibiotics, the side effects of this medication, and about why antibiotics are not always the answer.
Antibiotics are medications that are used to treat bacterial infections. Common bacterial infections in children include strep throat, ear infections, pneumonia, skin infections (cellulitis, abscess, impetigo), and urinary tract infections. The antibiotic works by either killing bacteria or by stopping the growth of the bacteria. When a patient has a bacterial infection, antibiotics are necessary in order to prevent the patient’s condition from worsening.
But on the flip side – Antibiotics do not treat viruses. Viral infections are very common in children and adults. Viruses most frequently cause cold symptoms (i.e., runny nose, cough, congestion, hoarse voice), although there are other forms of illness caused by viruses as well. Viral infections are not helped by antibiotics. The most common viral illnesses that we see in children are cold viruses. Did you know that some ear infections are caused by viruses as well? Children with cold viruses may require supportive care (oral hydration, nasal suctioning/saline, acetaminophen/ibuprofen for fever or discomfort), however they do not need antibiotics in order to improve.
All medications carry the risk of side effects. Common side effects of antibiotics include rash, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, and secondary yeast infections. According to the CDC, in children, reactions from antibiotics are the most common cause of medication-related emergency room visits. What happens when antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily? Overuse of antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria find ways to combat the antibiotics that are used to kill them. It can be very difficult to find an effective antibiotic to treat resistant forms of bacteria. In some cases, resistant forms of bacteria will cause life threatening illnesses.
I know it is frustrating as a parent to continuously be told that your child’s frequent episodes of cough, runny nose, and nasal congestion are due to a virus. As parents we have an innate need to protect our children and to do everything to help our children feel better when they are sick. A child who is ill needs evaluation by a health care provider in order to determine the best course of action. In some instances, antibiotics will be required in order to treat specific bacterial infections. In many other cases your health care provider will not prescribe antibiotics because this medication will not be helpful in treating a viral illness. Please trust in your child’s health care provider and in the evidence-based guidelines. If you are concerned about a recommended course of treatment, ask questions. We all have the same goal: to make your child healthy!
Little Spurs Pediatric Urgent Care opened in 2006 in San Antonio, Texas. With multiple locations in San Antonio and Dallas, they are open seven days a week with extended evening hours and see walk-in patients or through an online check-in system. They accept most commercial insurance and Medicaid plans. More information about Little Spurs Pediatric Urgent Care can be found at www.littlespurspedi.com.