Six Simple and Smart Facts About Antibiotic Use

As we enter fall and winter, parents know it’s the time of year when children may get sick more frequently. Often, there is uncertainty about when antibiotic treatment is needed and when it’s best for an illness to just run its course.  Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are unsure of the best way to treat your child’s illness or if symptoms are getting worse.  When thinking about antibiotic treatment, here are six simple facts to keep in mind:

  1. Antibiotics are life-saving drugs – Using antibiotics wisely is the best way to preserve their strength for future bacterial illnesses.
  2. Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections – If your child has a viral infection like a cold, talk to a doctor or pharmacist about symptom relief. This may include over-the-counter medicine, a humidifier, or warm liquids.
  3. Some ear infections DO NOT require an antibiotic – A doctor can likely determine what kind of ear infection your child has and if antibiotics will help. The doctor may follow expert guidelines to wait for a couple of days before prescribing antibiotics since your child may get better without them.
  4. Most sore throats DO NOT require an antibiotic – Only 1 in 5 children seen by a doctor for sore throat has strep throat, which should be treated with an antibiotic. Your child’s doctor can only confirm strep throat by running a test.
  5. Green colored mucus is NOT a sign that an antibiotic is needed – As the body’s immune system fights off an infection, mucus can change color. This is normal and does not mean your child needs an antibiotic.
  6. There are potential risks when taking any prescription drug – Antibiotic use can cause complications, ranging from an upset stomach to a serious allergic reaction. Your child’s doctor will weigh the risks and benefits before prescribing an antibiotic.

If your child is prescribed an antibiotic this cough and cold season, be sure to follow the directions on the prescription and ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions. If an antibiotic isn’t needed, there are many other ways you can help your little one feel better:

  • Make sure he gets plenty of rest
  • Make sure he stays hydrated by giving him plenty of fluids to drink
  • Use a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer
  • Avoid smoking, second-hand smoke, and other pollutants
  • Try a warm bath or heating pad to soothe aches and pains
  • Use over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers (like acetaminophen) or saline nasal spray. Ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about the right amount of medicine to give your child.

You can find out more about using antibiotics appropriately and tips for symptom relief from the CDC.

Meet Our Experts

Kevin Patel

Kevin Patel is currently finishing his medical degree at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, with a plan to specialize in pediatrics. He is rotating at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where he helps promote the Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work program.