In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our January-February 2012 issue, we asked WebMD children's health expert, Roy Benaroch, MD, how parents can help with the problem of antibiotic overuse.
Q: I’m worried that kids -- mine and others -- are taking too many antibiotics too often. What can parents do?
This Thanksgiving has special meaning for Emmy Award-winning actor, producer, and author Marlo Thomas. It’s the 50th anniversary of her family’s fundraising for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, located in Memphis, Tenn.
St. Jude began as the dream of Marlo’s father, the late, great funnyman Danny Thomas, in 1957 and has been going strong ever since. Since his death in 1991, Marlo, along with her sister, Terre, and brother, Tony, has been at the forefront of the center’s fundraising.
A: You’re right to be concerned. Antibiotics are overprescribed. And the potential consequences, including drug-resistant bacteria and hard-to-cure diseases, are real. The problem is due partly to habit (doctors are used to prescribing them) and also to parental pressure. Some doctors feel parents insist on a prescription and are disappointed if they don’t get one. Not all parents do this, but some are very vocal about it. Perhaps doctors have a false impression that all parents want antibiotics all the time.
Doctors need to stand firm, and parents need to learn. Few of the most common upper respiratory infections in children require antibiotics. Most fevers and respiratory infections -- including bronchitis -- are caused by viruses, which don’t respond to antibiotics. Ear infections in children older than 2 usually go away without antibiotics. And most sore throats require antibiotics only if a strep test is positive. A few exceptions, such as bacterial pneumonia, apply -- but not for most of these conditions.
What can you do? Prevent illness by making sure your child’s vaccinations are up to date. Let your pediatrician know you’re fine with not getting antibiotics unless it’s truly necessary. And if your child is prescribed antibiotics, make sure she takes the full dose. Don’t stop or start them on your own without your doctor’s OK.