What Parents Should Know About Antibiotics for Children

Sept. 7, 2023

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Cold and flu season brings plenty of challenges for parents. Antibiotics can help, but these must be taken carefully. 

“The most important thing to know is that you only want to take an antibiotic when it is truly necessary, meaning you have a bacterial infection that requires an antibiotic,” says Dr. Lloyd Kapp, medical director with BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. 

Doctors often prescribe antibiotics for children with ear infections, strep throat, skin infections, abscesses, urinary tract infections or sinusitis. Antibiotics are medicines that fight infections from bacteria. They only treat certain bacterial infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But they can be overused or taken incorrectly. It is important to know when to take an antibiotic

“Antibiotics don’t work against colds, the flu or COVID-19. They don’t treat viruses,” Kapp says. 

Children who have a common cold or a virus may be treated with medications to address symptoms like a runny nose, fever or a cough. Health care providers should not prescribe antibiotics for these symptoms. 

"For the most part, antibiotics do not prevent illness. It is uncommon for bacterial infections to follow viruses," he says. 

Bacterial infections do not prevent illness. However, viruses can sometimes result in bacterial infection. One of the big complications of the flu is pneumonia, which is bacterial. The antibiotics do not prevent this complication.

Using antibiotics when they are not needed can cause more harm than good, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). These medications have side effects that can cause stomachaches, vomiting or diarrhea. 

Your child’s doctor will know when an antibiotic is needed. Be sure to take the medication as prescribed by the doctor. Follow the AAP’s medication safety tips and learn how to take liquid medications. Don’t stop taking the medication early. 

“That can build up resistance with bacteria, and it may not fully treat the infection. The main thing to remember with antibiotics is to take them as directed by your doctor,” Kapp says. 

Taking antibiotics too often can cause overgrowth of certain types of bacteria. Talk with your child’s doctor about any medication he or she prescribes. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the AAP are independent organizations that offer health information you may find helpful.

This article contains links to third party sites. Those organizations are solely responsible for the contents and privacy policies of those sites.

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