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?
I was not a happy mom last spring when I got a call from the health clerk at my son's school saying she had found lice on his little first-grade head.
While I know the critters carry no diseases and don't cause any actual harm -- but for itching --they're still gross. "I felt a sort of panic and dread," said another mother in my son's class, whose child also had lice. "I hated the idea they could be anywhere; it's so hard to see them."
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.