Antibiotics are modern medicine’s leading weapon against bacteria-caused illnesses. But researchers and health care providers now recognize they aren’t the answer to every illness. Sometimes, they can even make things worse.
That’s why, when your child is sick, it’s important to talk with his health care provider about whether antibiotics are the best way to treat the illness.
Antibiotics have their place in treatment of illnesses caused by bacteria. But overuse of antibiotics has caused some kinds of bacteria to become resistant to treatment. Luckily, some new antibiotics are being developed to replace the ineffective ones. To keep bacteria from becoming resistant to treatment with antibiotics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend using or giving your child antibiotics only when necessary.
Not all bacteria are unhealthy. Some bacteria help to digest food, or destroy cells that cause disease. But when antibiotics are used when there is no illness, they may kill the helpful bacteria and possibly lead to complications such as diarrhea or a yeast infection.
Many illnesses aren’t caused by bacteria. Instead, they are caused by viruses, which cannot be treated with antibiotics. In fact, some antibiotics may actually cause side-effects that make a person feel worse. Taking antibiotics for a viral illness will not help your child feel better, nor keep others from becoming sick.
Some infections that people may think can be treated with antibiotics include a sore throat, cough, a common cold and the flu. But antibiotics are the wrong way to treat the swelling, painful swallowing and nasal congestion of the most common kind of sore throat, known as pharyngitis, because such symptoms are caused by a virus, not bacteria.
However, the severe sore throat known as Strep throat is caused by bacteria. Strep symptoms are often more severe than virus-caused sore throats and may include a high fever, chills, vomiting, headache and muscle aches.
Only one in five children seen by a provider for a sore throat has strep throat. To determine what’s causing your child’s symptoms, the provider may take a quick, painless sample, which will be sent to a lab. If the sample indicates your child has strep throat, your provider will decide on the best treatment, which may include antibiotics.
Prevention is always the best to keep from becoming sick. Here are some tips to avoid sore throats:
- Wash hands regularly.
- Keep eating utensils separate and wash them in hot, soapy water or a dishwasher after each use.
- Don’t share food, drinks, napkins, or towels.
- Use a cloth, not your hand, to catch a sneeze or cough.
- Get a flu shot every year. The best time to get the flu vaccine is the late summer, early fall or as soon as it is available where you live.