Get Smart About Antibiotics: 3 Key Questions to Ask Your Pediatrician

When it comes to your child’s health, antibiotics can seem powerful. If your child has strep throat, they clear it up. But antibiotics just don’t work against a whole host of childhood infections — colds and flu, most coughs and bronchitis, sore throat not caused by strep, and runny noses. When pediatricians overprescribe antibiotics — often because parents request them — they can lead to adverse side effects, and even more worrisome, antibiotic resistance in children and adults alike. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics has teamed up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create Get Smart About Antibiotics Week.

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The latest set of clinical guidelines, released online on November 18th in advance of the December 2013 issue of Pediatrics, challenges doctors to  explore if their diagnosis is based on bacterial or viral infection and whether it’s necessary or not for antibiotics to be prescribed for that child.


To understand what this all means for parents, we asked Mary Anne Jackson, M.D., Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Mercy Hospital and Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri. She gave us three pointers to keep in mind the next time you bring your child to the doctor’s office. To make sure your child gets the right kind of antibiotic and to ensure that the antibiotic is prescribed only when it is necessary, get in the habit of asking these three questions:

1. Is This Infection Caused by a Bacteria?

“Antibiotics work only against bacterial illnesses, not those caused by viruses,” says Dr. Jackson. “Antibiotics do not work on the viruses that cause the vast majority of sore throats, colds and mild ear infections, and inappropriate use promotes antibiotic resistance.”

2. What Are Other Options for Treatment? 

“If an antibiotic is not necessary because your child has a viral infection, ask what other measures are recommended to help with your child’s symptoms,” suggests Dr. Jackson. “For children with mild ear infections, your child’s doctor may recommend medicine to treat ear pain.” (While some ear infections are bacterial, they tend to clear up on their own just as fast without antibiotics.)

3. If My Child Does Need Antibiotics, Should She Also Take Probiotics?

Follow up and inquire about probiotics — beneficial bacteria that may help counter the diarrhea and other GI problems that antibiotics may cause. Keep an eye out for such side effects — and talk to your doctor.  “If your child’s doctor prescribes an antibiotic for an ear infection or other bacterial infection, ask how to follow up if your child’s condition worsens or is not improved in 48-72 hours. Ask your doctor if a probiotic may be helpful for your child. If your child develops an itchy rash, hives or watery diarrhea while taking antibiotics, notify your child’s doctor,” says Dr. Jackson.

Antibiotics are powerful. If we use them wisely, they’ll be around when our children really need them.

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