When a child becomes ill, often a parent’s first thought is of the need for antibiotics. However, this mindset is often quite inaccurate and does nothing to treat the root problem. Sadly, these mistaken ideas have been built upon by many well-meaning doctors who prescribe antibiotics too liberally or for sicknesses that are not even affected by this type of medication.

What Antibiotics Treat, and What They Do Not Treat

The most basic rule of thumb is that antibiotics are only effective for bacterial infections, not on viral or fungal infections. When antibiotics are repeatedly used for viral infections, the bacteria in the body may become immune or tolerant to the antibiotic, making the drug ineffective in the future when it truly is needed. Sometimes, a pediatrician may not know if an antibiotic is truly needed, and they may not feel that a definitive diagnosis is needed. In these cases, the doctor may wait to use an antibiotic to see if the infection becomes worse. For example, while antibiotics can be used to treat strep throat and ear infections, they may not be needed for the infection to clear up on its own. When an antibiotic is not needed, it is best to refrain from using it. This can be hard for parents to bear as they watch their children feel discomfort due to a minor infection.

Another point that one’s pediatrician will keep in mind is how often within a year antibiotics are prescribed for the same child. In some cases, there may be better ways to treat the problem over the long-term. For example, children who have numerous bouts of strep throat or ear infections in one year may be candidates for tonsillectomies or ear tubes respectively.

Another option for children who do not respond to the first antibiotic that is given is to try a different type of antibiotic. Pediatricians do not necessarily try something stronger; rather, they try an antibiotic in a different category that may be more effective at eliminating the bacteria. The reason for this guesswork is that many times the bacteria are not definitively named, and doctors are simply guessing at the actual bacteria at fault.

“The subject of antibiotics can be a confusing one for parents with sick little ones. Let Dr. Matney be a guide through this process. His kind and professional care is sure to set children’s and parents’ minds at ease.”