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No matter how popular an antibiotic gets, it will never go viral. The main point I want you to get from this article is that antibiotics do NOT kill viruses. Antibiotics should only be used for infections caused by bacteria. And viruses are the culprits in childhood illness far more often than bacteria – viruses cause cough and cold symptoms, fever, most sore throats in kids, some pink eye, most vomiting and diarrhea illnesses, and even ear infections.
Not only do antibiotics not work to treat many infections in children, they can do more harm than good. Antibiotics can have side effects like diarrhea, upset stomach, yeast infections, and allergic reactions. Overuse and incorrect use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotics losing their effect on true bacterial infections. Bacteria are actually really smart, and can mutate when they encounter an antibiotic, so that it no longer kills them.
Now that I have painted a bad picture about antibiotics, rest assured there is definitely a place for these life-saving medications. If your child truly has a bacterial infection, these medications are absolutely necessary and should be given so that the infection doesn’t spread and cause worsening illness.
Some of the more common reasons children need antibiotics are for urinary tract infections, skin infections, strep throat, ear infections (although often these are viral), occasionally sinus infections in older kids, and pneumonia. Your doctor can determine if your child has a bacterial infection or a viral infection, and will prescribe antibiotics only if necessary.
Let’s go over some of the more common antibiotics we prescribe for kids so you are a bit more familiar with these medications should the need arise for your child in the future. Amoxicillin is one of the most common antibiotics I prescribe. It is my first line go-to for ear infections (if antibiotics are indicated, which is not always the case for ear infections), and pneumonia. I also like to use it for Strep throat. Augmentin is Amoxicillin’s cousin. It has a little extra boost of bacteria fighting power and is used in some cases when amoxicillin is not strong enough. We don’t just jump to this one, though, because it notoriously causes diarrhea as a side effect. It is necessary, however, for dog bites to prevent infection. Clindamycin is also one of my favorites. It is great for skin infections, and actually the oral version is just as good as giving it through an IV line directly into the bloodstream. This antibiotic, however, tastes incredibly gross, so can pose a challenge to get into a little one (or a big one for that matter!). Keflex (Cephalexin) is my go-to for urinary tract infections. Bactrim (TMP-Sulfa) can also be used for skin infections and urinary infections, but I don’t use this one unless I have to, as children tend to have more allergic reactions to this med than others. These are the most common antibiotics I prescribe for children, but the list of available antibiotics goes on and on (just ask anyone in medical school microbiology class – ugh!).
Unfortunately, many children report getting a rash with amoxicillin. This, however, is not always an allergy. Amoxicillin, among other antibiotics, is often incorrectly prescribed during viral infections. Viral infections often give a full body rash and can mimic the rash from an allergic reaction. Since the child, who has a virus, is also on amoxicillin, the rash then is attributed to an allergy to the medication rather than due to the virus the child has.
Bottom line, antibiotics should not be used every time a child gets sick. There are particular cases when they are indicated. Your doctor will be able to determine if an antibiotic is truly indicated, and if so which antibiotic choice is best for your child’s illness.
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