Click here for shortcuts to regional language blogs and city-specific events.
Your child has a runny nose, a cough, a sore throat, and a fever, so you go to the pediatrician. The doctor knows a virus caused this infection, which will just run its course. You're worried, so you push the doctor to give your child an antibiotic. The doctor gives in!
Who's wrong? Both you and the doctor, experts say. Children have the highest rates of antibiotic use and they also have the highest rate of infections caused by antibiotic-resistant pathogens, but antibiotics are not necessary for the majority of infections seen in the pediatrician's office. Parental pressure can influence a doctor's decision about using antibiotics. Doctors prescribe antibiotics much more often for children if they think parents expect them, but less often if they feel parents do not expect them.
Why It's Harmful to Overuse Them
Taking antibiotics for colds and other viral illnesses not only won't work, but it can also have dangerous side effects over time. This practice actually helps create bacteria that are harder to kill.
Frequent and inappropriate use of antibiotics can cause bacteria or other microbes to change so antibiotics don’t work against them. This is called bacterial resistance or antibiotic resistance. Treating these resistant bacteria requires higher doses of medicine or stronger antibiotics. Because of antibiotic overuse, certain bacteria have become resistant to even the most powerful antibiotics available today.
Taking Antibiotics Safely
So what should you do when your child gets sick? To minimize the risk of bacterial resistance, keep these tips in mind:
Take antibiotics only for bacterial infections. It's a good idea to let milder illnesses (especially those thought to be caused by viruses) run their course. This helps prevent antibiotic-resistant germs from developing. But leave it to your doctor to decide if an illness is "mild" or not. Even if the symptoms don't get worse but do last a while, take your child to the doctor.
Seek advice and ask questions. Ask your doctor about whether your child's illness is bacterial or viral, and discuss the risks and benefits of antibiotics. If it's a virus, ask about ways to treat symptoms. Don't pressure your doctor to prescribe antibiotics. And most important, never use antibiotics that have been lying around your home. And never give your child antibiotics that were prescribed for another family member or adult. Saving antibiotics ‘for the next time’ is a bad idea too. Any remaining antibiotics should be thrown out as soon as your child has taken the full course of medicine as prescribed.
This article has been written by Dr. Somendra Shukla, Pediatrics & Neonatology, W Pratiksha Hospital.