Small Child in Winter CoatWhen your little one is achy, feverish and coughing up a storm, you would do anything to help him feel better. Unfortunately, the first treatment many people think of – an antibiotic – isn't always the answer.

It’s important to remember that antibiotics should be used judiciously, and only to treat specific bacterial infections. In most pediatric cases, that means ear infections and strep throat. Antibiotics are useless against viruses.  

Why it matters

Antibiotics target bacteria, destroying them or slowing their progress. However, every time your child takes an antibiotic, resistant bacteria – bacteria that are no longer killed by most antibiotics – may grow. These resistant bacteria are more likely to be responsible for your child's next illness and will make it much harder to treat.

There are a few bacterial infections that have already become resistant to antibiotics, and there is growing concern that overuse of antibiotics will cause even more infections to become resistant to antibiotics.

Here are a few ways you can help prevent the misuse of antibiotics:

  • Do not use antibiotics to treat viruses, like colds or flu. The only way to treat viruses is with rest, fluids and extra love and care. Most viruses clear up in three to 12 days. Don't request an antibiotic unless your pediatrician is certain your child has a bacterial infection and not a virus.
  • If your child does have a bacterial infection that requires an antibiotic, be sure he finishes the entire course of treatment, even if he is feeling better. If you stop the treatment early, the bacteria could return.
  • Do not give your child's medicine to someone else, even if you are certain that the other person has the same illness as your child.
  • Throw away any unused or expired antibiotics.

Reviewed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello Jr., MD
Date: November 2014