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Debunking Old Wives' Tales: Children and Antibiotics

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Debunking Old Wives' Tales: Children and Antibiotics

Oct 23, 2017

When your child is sick, you want any medicine you can have to help them feel better and fast. But does your child really need antibiotics for what they have? Pediatrician Dr. Cindy Gellner discusses the myths and facts about when antibiotics can help your child and when they can do more harm than good.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Gellner: As a parent, I completely understand that when a child is sick, you want any medicine you can have to make them feel better and fast. However, antibiotics are not always a good choice. I'll discuss myths and facts about when antibiotics are really needed on today's Scope. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner.

Announcer: Remember that one thing that one person told you that one time about what you should or shouldn't do with raising your kids? Find out if it's true or not. This is Debunking Old Wives Tales with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: Ask any pediatrician and the number one question when a parent brings a sick child to the doctor is, "Are you going to give them antibiotics? Often parents will bring in their children for fevers, coughs, or sore throats. So giving them antibiotics will make them better more quickly right? Not true. Most of these symptoms are caused by viruses, not bacteria. And so antibiotics will do nothing to make them feel better and may make them feel worse, especially since one of the big side effects of antibiotics is diarrhea.

When antibiotics are used, they kill all the bacteria in the body, good and bad, that are sensitive to that antibiotic. Too much antibiotic use means that the stronger antibiotic resistant bacteria take over and then the problem is sometimes, we see these new bacteria require heavy duty antibiotics that can only be given by IV, or sometimes we don't even have a good antibiotic to treat these resistant bacteria.

So if your child is given an antibiotic, it must be taken for 10 days to kill all the bad bacteria, right? Well, no, some antibiotics only need to be taken for five to seven days for treatment. The bottom line is be sure you give the antibiotic exactly as your doctor prescribes.

But what about if your child's snot is thick and green? This means antibiotics are needed, right? No again. Studies have shown that mucus color results from white blood cells and proteins fighting inflammation in the mucus and not any harmful bacteria. In fact, the longer mucus is produced, the greener and thicker it becomes. That's why a common cold lasting more than three to four days produces green mucus. Now, if the drainage has been going for an extended period of time and your child is getting worse, then your child's doctor will help you decide if antibiotics are needed at that point.

I've often heard from parents that this or that antibiotic doesn't work for my child. They're immune to it or it's not strong enough. Well, the fact is people don't develop immunity to antibiotics. If the antibiotic didn't work for your child in the past, maybe they were being treated for a viral illness and not a bacterial one, or the bacteria had developed resistance. The only time a child shouldn't be prescribed a particular antibiotic is if they have a true documented allergy to it.

Finally, some parents worry that if their child takes too many antibiotics, it will lower their immunity. False. Antibiotics have no adverse effects on the immune system. What too many antibiotics will do is cause all the good bacteria in your child's body to be killed and put them at risk for issues like chronic diarrhea and resistant bacteria.

So remember, when it comes to prescribing antibiotics for your sick child, trust your pediatrician. They have the training to determine when an antibiotic is needed and when it's not. And don't be afraid to ask about our decisions. We want parents to be involved in their child's health care decisions.

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