8 ways to keep kids off unnecessary antibiotics

"All use of antibiotics leads, eventually, to resistant bacteria, where those antibiotics just won't work anymore," says Saul Hymes. "And overuse—unnecessary use for viruses or colds—leads to resistance that much faster." (Credit: iStockphoto)

Antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest health problems of our generation and the generations to come, says pediatrician Saul Hymes.

This week is “Get Smart About Antibiotics Week” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and partners. The event aims to raise awareness of the threat of antibiotic resistance and the importance of appropriate antibiotic use across all health care settings.

“All use of antibiotics leads, eventually, to resistant bacteria, where those antibiotics just won’t work anymore,” says Hymes, an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics and a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

“And overuse—unnecessary use for viruses or colds—leads to resistance that much faster.”

Hymes says antibiotics have been one of the greatest health advances of the last century, adding that these drugs have led to treatment of once fatal infections but with all the advantages come disadvantages.

So when is the right time to take antibiotics? And what simple at-home actions can your family take to soothe sick kids? Hymes shares his tips:

1. Get educated: Antibiotics cure bacterial infections, not viral infections such as colds or the flu, most coughs and bronchitis, most sore throats, or runny noses. Taking antibiotics for viral infections will not cure the infection, protect others from catching it, or help you feel better.

2. Read the fine print: Antibiotics also can kill the healthy bacteria in your intestines, which can allow more harmful bacteria to develop. Also, when your child is prescribed an antibiotic, make sure they take every dose and stop when the health professional says to, not before.

3. Treat at home first: Symptoms of most upper respiratory infections, including sore throats, ear infections, sinus infections, colds, and bronchitis, can be less intense without antibiotics. Try the following: Getting plenty of rest; drinking plenty of fluids; avoid smoking, secondhand smoke, and other pollutants (airborne chemicals or irritants); taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve pain or fever; Soothing a sore throat with ice chips, popsicles, lozenges (for older children), gargle with salt water or drink warm beverages.

4. Stop by the drug store: Many over-the-counter pain relievers can help children with pain relief, thus avoiding the need for antibiotics. For babies 6 months of age or younger, only use acetaminophen for pain relief. For a child 6 months of age or older, either acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be given for pain relief. Check with your doctor or pharmacist for the right dosage for your child’s age and size. DO NOT give aspirin to a child as it can lead to the development of Reye’s syndrome, a rare but very serious illness that harms the liver and brain.

5. Identify: Does your child have a cold or is it allergies? With the change in seasons and temperature fluctuations, sinus pain or pressure is very common. But antibiotics are not always needed. A warm compress over the nose and forehead can help relieve sinus pressure. Or, for adults or older children, try a decongestant or saline nasal spray or breathing in steam from a bowl of hot water or shower.

6. Resist the pressure: Don’t ever be pressured into giving your child antibiotics. Let your healthcare professional know your concerns. But also, don’t pressure your healthcare professional to prescribe antibiotics—they will if they feel it’s necessary.

7. Don’t pass it on: Kids either love or hate to share their toys and snacks, but never give antibiotics that are prescribed for one child to another and never use antibiotics without a prescription. And do not keep extra antibiotics “for next time.”

8. Get vaccinated: Make sure your children are vaccinated on time with the full schedule of childhood vaccines. Many bacterial illnesses can be prevented altogether.

Source: Stony Brook University