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Health & Safety

Antibiotics and Kids: 8 Things Parents Need to Know

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are on the rise, so it's important to keep these expert guidelines in mind

By Linda Rodgers
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Antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" are a growing problem and these hard-to-treat bacteria pose a threat for kids, too, according to a new study. The research, from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, found a 700-percent spike in antibiotic-resistant infections from bacteria including salmonella and E.coli among U.S. children in the past eight years. One big reason for the rise in superbugs is the overuse of antibiotics. Here’s what parents need to know when it comes to these meds: 


1. Know what antibiotics can and can't treat. Most of the germs kids get are viruses—colds, coughs, run-of-the-mill sore throats—and antibiotics can’t treat those, says Stan Spinner, M.D., chief medical officer at Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care. They can, however, kill off the bacteria behind such kid illnesses as strep throat and ear and skin infections.

2. You can wait out an ear infection. About half of all ear infections get better without Rx drugs. “It’s still important to use antibiotics for very young kids and children with high fevers. But for most healthy kids, some acetaminophen or ibuprofen—and plenty of hugs—are often enough for an earache,” says Claire McCarthy, M.D., director of the Pediatric Diagnostic Program at Boston Children’s Hospital and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

3. Don’t cut the treatment short. Sure, it’s tough to get your kid to swallow the meds, regardless of how much flavoring there is. But if your child doesn’t take the prescription for the entire time, there’s a chance the infection will return. “You’re also giving the bacteria a chance to figure out a way to outsmart the antibiotic. If you are thinking about stopping, for whatever reason, call your doctor first,” Dr. McCarthy notes.

4. Avoid sharing. Even if you have another child who has similar symptoms, don’t treat both of them with the same bottle. Neither child will get the full treatment and your other kid may not even need the medication. “Even though the symptoms may be similar, it may not be the same illness at all,” explains Dr. Spinner.

5. Prep yourself for side effects. The most common ones are diarrhea, an upset stomach, and rashes. “Probiotics—either in packets, capsules, or naturally in yogurt—can help replace the good bacteria and sometimes head off the stomach upset,” says Dr. McCarthy.

6. Watch out for allergies. Rashes are also a common side effect and sometimes signal an allergic reaction. Another clue your child could be allergic: If two or more immediate family members have a known allergy to a particular antibiotic or group of antibiotics, your child’s risk increases by 5 to 10 percent, says Dr. Spinner.

7. Stay in touch with the doctor, especially if your child doesn’t feel better in a day or so. It may be that the particular antibiotic isn’t working or the infection has spread. If that’s the case, the pediatrician may prescribe another class of antibiotic that can do a better job, says Dr. Spinner.

8. Toss out leftover meds; don't save them for another sick day. Not all antibiotics are alike; some are more effective against certain issues than others. Plus, they often have a short shelf life and can cause more side effects after they expire, says Dr. Spinner.

Parenting advice is given as a suggestion only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider.