As many as 1 in 4 children in the United States could be taking too many antibiotics. In a recent study highlighted by HealthDay News and published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, researchers found that doctors in children’s hospitals nationwide are giving antibiotics to pediatric patients inappropriately, and most often when unneeded. Patients who are overexposed to antibiotics are more likely to develop antibiotic resistance- a condition putting them at an elevated risk for fatal infections.
It’s important to note that we are not providing health advice. As Long Island safety and health advocates, our team at Siler & Ingber believes in the power of information to make educated decisions about your child’s health.
These are the facts parents should be aware of when it comes to antibiotics.
The Misuse of Pediatric Antibiotics
Antibiotics are life-saving medications that have been used to prevent the spread of bacterial infections for almost a century. But too much of anything can be unhealthy; antibiotics are no exception.
The researchers in the Clinical Infectious Diseases study were curious to know how often antibiotics were really necessary to treat hospitalized pediatric patients. Researchers evaluated over 12,000 children at 32 children’s hospitals who were taking one or more antibiotics for the following factors: if the cases required antibiotics, if a different antibiotic should have been used, and if the duration of the antibiotic use was appropriate.
At least 1 in 3 pediatric patients evaluated received one or more antibiotics while in care. Among this group, 25 percent received at least one antibiotic categorized as ‘inappropriate’. These cases included:
- Receiving the wrong antibiotic (27%);
- Receiving antibiotics for too long (17%);
- Taking unnecessary antibiotics (11%); and
- Receiving antibiotics in place of other drugs that could have reduced infections (11%).
The antibiotic study also found that children who were diagnosed with pneumonia were the most likely to receive unnecessary antibiotics in the hospital.
Common Questions About Antibiotics
Antibiotics are not a cure-all drug. But if you’re a parent who’s confused about how and when antibiotics are supposed to be used, you’re not alone.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (A.A.P.) compiled the following list of answers to the most common questions parents have surrounding the topic of antibiotics:
- How do children become antibiotic-resistant? The repeated use of antibiotics can lead your child to develop bacteria in their body that can no longer be killed by antibiotics. Your child can also develop resistance if they are taking the wrong antibiotic to prevent infection, including broad-based drugs that cover a number of possible conditions. These types of bacteria are extremely harmful, as they can spread to other children and adults, resulting in the same harmful resistance to antibiotics.
- Will antibiotics help a cold? Unfortunately, no. Colds are caused by viruses and antibiotics are used to kill infections caused by bacteria.
- Can antibiotics be used to prevent the possibility of a bacterial infection caused by a virus? The A.A.P. reports that bacterial infections do not commonly follow viruses. Using antibiotics as a prevention method for these rare occurrences may do more harm than good.
- Can antibiotics treat ear infections? Antibiotics may or may not be effective depending on the cause of the infection. The A.A.P reports most ear infections are the result of a virus, but it is up to your child’s doctor to look for signs and symptoms.
- Do antibiotics treat sore throats? More than 80 percent of sore throats are caused by viruses. Antibiotics are used to treat group A streptococci infections, also known as ‘strep throat’.
- What are the side effects of antibiotics? Antibiotics are strong medications, and 1 in every 10 children can experience side effects, including: rashes, allergic reactions, nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pain.
- How long does it take for antibiotics to work? It can take anywhere between 48 to 72 hours for an antibiotic to take effect.
- What is the difference between antiviral and antibiotic? Antibiotics are used to kill bacteria that can lead to infections, while antivirals are prescribed to high-risk children to prevent serious side effects of viruses, including the flu.
How To Advocate For Your Child
The thought that a doctor would prescribe unnecessary medication to a child is discomforting. But it happens more often than we’d like to believe.
Parents are the strongest (and sometimes only) advocate for their child’s health. When your child is prescribed antibiotics, don’t be afraid to ask questions to find out if this is really the best and safest course of treatment.
To start, these are some questions you should be asking your child’s health care provider before administering antibiotics to your children:
- Does my child need antibiotics?
- Are there any safer options?
- What are the risks?
- How do I safely administer them?
- Are these drugs specific enough to their condition?
Keep your children safe from adverse reactions to antibiotics by staying informed. For more information, visit HealthChildren.org.
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