Tips to Understanding Antibiotic Usage

Dr. M. Vijayalakshmi, M.D (Peds), M.D (USA), F.A.A.P

"Content Source: American Academy of Pediatrics."

When are antibiotics necessary? Your doctor can best answer this complicated question and the answer depends on the diagnosis.

What are bacteria and viruses?

Bacteria are single-celled organisms usually found all over the inside and outside of our bodies, except in the blood and spinal fluid. Many bacteria are not harmful. In fact, some are actually beneficial. However, disease-causing bacteria trigger illnesses, such as strep throat and some ear infections. Viruses are even smaller than bacteria. A virus cannot survive outside the body's cells. It causes illnesses by invading healthy cells and reproducing.

Here are a few examples:

Ear infections :There are several types; many need antibiotics, but some do not.

Sinus infections :Most children with thick or green mucus do not have sinus infections. Antibiotics are needed for some long-lasting or severe cases.

Cough or bronchitis :Children rarely need antibiotics for bronchitis.

Sore throat :Viruses cause most cases. Only one major kind, "strep throat," requires antibiotics. This condition must be diagnosed by a laboratory test.

Colds :Colds are caused by viruses and may last for two weeks or longer. Antibiotics have no effect on colds, but your doctor may have suggestions for obtaining comfort while the illness runs its course.

Viral infections sometimes lead to bacterial infections. But treating viral infections with antibiotics will not prevent bacterial infections and may trigger infections with resistant bacteria. Keep your doctor informed if the illness gets worse, or lasts a long time, so that the proper treatment can be given as needed.

How do I know if my child has a viral or bacterial infection?

Ask your doctor. If you think that your child might need treatment, you should contact your doctor. But remember, colds are caused by viruses and need not be treated with antibiotics.

What kinds of infections are caused by viruses and need not be treated with antibiotics?
  • Cold
  • Flu
  • Many coughs and bronchitis
  • Sore throats (except for those resulting from strep throat)
How do I know when an illness is caused by a viral or bacterial infection?

Sometimes it is very hard to tell. Consult with your doctor to be sure.

When do I need to take antibiotics?

Antibiotics are powerful medications. They should only be used when prescribed by a doctor to treat bacterial infections.

Should I ask my doctor to prescribe antibiotics?

Talk to your doctor about the best treatment. You should not expect to get a prescription for antibiotics. If you have a viral infection, antibiotics will not cure it, help you feel better, or prevent someone else from getting your virus.

What is antibiotic resistance and why should I be concerned?

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in a way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of antibiotics. These resistant bacteria survive and multiply - causing more harm, such as a longer illness, more doctor visits, and a need for more expensive and toxic antibiotics..

What can I do to protect my child from antibiotic-resistant bacteria?

Use antibiotics only when your doctor has determined that they are likely to be effective. Antibiotics will not cure most colds, coughs, sore throats, or runny noses. Children in many cases fight off colds on their own.

Does this mean that I should never give my child antibiotics?

No, antibiotics may be needed when your child has a bacterial infection. Your doctor is the best judge of this. Antibiotics are very powerful medicines and should only be used to treat bacterial infections. If an antibiotic is prescribed, make sure you take the entire course and never save the medication for later use.