Should I Give My Child Antibiotics?

Nothing’s worse than having a sick child. Your life becomes an endless loop of taking temperatures, serving soup, rubbing tummies, and other duties that I won’t get into (this is a family website after all!) The sooner that your little one gets better, the more pleasant life becomes for everybody involved.

One question that I often get from parents is whether or not they should give their sick kids antibiotics. My philosophy is that, like with anything in medicine, they have an appropriate time and place. You don’t want to use them when they aren’t necessary, but you also don’t want to shun them when you do need them for fear of developing a tolerance.

Using antibiotics is a trade-off. In some societies, like much of Europe, parents give their children far fewer antibiotics with the intention of keeping their bodies’ drug resistance low. However, they also risk their kids getting far sicker than necessary when it could have been prevented. The more that an antibiotic is used, the more that bacteria learn how to resist them; the bacterium sees what they’re like and learns how to adapt to them. The key is to use them to treat illnesses, but not too much to the extent that they are no longer effective.

So what is the best way to determine whether or not antibiotics are the right call for your child’s current ailment? I recommend that you consult your pediatrician, though it is imperative that you do so in person. According to this recent study, kids with cold symptoms were far more likely to be prescribed antibiotics after a remote visit, such as on a phone or webcam, than an in-person one. The former cohort received prescriptions for antibiotics over half the time, while only 31% of kids received them after visiting the doctor’s office.

If you take one thing away from my spiel, it’s to visit your physician before making any decisions about medications. Web MD, despite what its name suggests, is not a doctor, nor even a valid, medically-reviewed source. Consult a licensed doctor who will diagnose your child’s condition and make the best call regarding treatment. The closer you follow this advice, the fewer sick days you and the family will deal with, and that’s a win for everybody!

Philip Weiss, M.D.
Dr. Weiss attended college at the University of Michigan. He obtained his medical degree and did his residency at Emory University. He is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and is a Fellow with the American Academy of Pediatrics and a member of the Medical Association of Georgia. He has been with North Atlanta Pediatric Associates since 1996. Dr. Weiss is married and has two adult children named Jamie and Joey. He enjoys spending time with his family, gardening, cooking, and swimming. Please note: Joey Weiss acts as ghostwriter for these articles.

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