November 12-16 is Get Smart about antibiotics week. Visit the CDC’s website to learn more.
When a child is sick, parents tend to assume (feel) the perfect remedy is an antibiotic. However, if your child has the flu, a cold, runny nose, sore throat, or cough, an antibiotic is not likely the answer. A majority of these symptoms are caused by viral infections, which are not cured by antibiotics which treat bacteria.
There are probably a lot of questions running through your head…let me try and help!
How can you tell if your child has a virus?
Common viral symptoms, which don’t require an antibiotic
- Chest cold in an otherwise healthy child
- Sore throat that isn’t strep
- Bronchitis in an otherwise healthy child
- Runny nose with green or yellow mucus
- Fluid in the middle ear
Antibiotics are not equipped to treat a virus and actually may cause more harm than good such as side effects or allergic reactions. Every time your child is given medication, their body’s tolerance to that medication is building, making it less effective the next time it may be used. This means that the more you give your child an antibiotic, the less it will fight their infection. Especially during a true bacterial infection, the antibiotic may not be as strong in fighting off the infection. It’s important to talk with your child’s doctor about antibiotic resistance.
Why does it matter?
Treating a virus with an antibiotic will not:
- Cure the infection
- Keep others from catching the infection
- Make your child feel better
What can you do for your child if they have a viral infection?
- Extra rest
- Plenty of fluids
- Use a clean humidifier or cool vapor mist
- Avoid smoking, second hand smoke and other pollutants including airborne chemicals or irritants
- Consider giving your child acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen to relieve pain or fever – used as directed
What about relieving the pain…
- Soothe a sore throat with ice chips, sore throat spray, or lozenges (do not give lozenges to young children)
- Use a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer
- Put a warm moist cloth over the ear that hurts
- Use a decongestant or saline nasal spray to help relieve nasal symptoms as directed
- Put a warm compress over the nose and forehead to help relieve sinus pressure
- Use a decongestant or saline nasal spray
- Breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water or shower
- Use a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer or breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water or shower
How can I ensure my child is receiving proper care?
If your child has a bacterial infection and is prescribed an antibiotic,
- Administer the prescription exactly as prescribed
- If your child is feeling better, still give them the prescribed doses, otherwise the infection may return
- Throw away left over medication once your child has completed their prescription
Colds caused by viruses may last two weeks or longer. However, once the illness has run its course, children and adults will typically feel much better. Viruses can really take a toll on an individual’s immune system, so don’t underestimate the power of rest and re-hydration. If you feel your child is not improving, please contact your physician.
Having just read this information you are already more prepared to fight off your child’s infections! If you ever feel concerned about the course of treatment your child is given, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Remember- you are your child’s greatest advocate!
About the author:
Navjyot Vidwan, MD, joined Dayton Children’s department of infectious disease and inpatient general pediatrics team in 2010. Dr. Vidwan comes to Dayton Children’s after completing a fellowship in pediatric infectious disease at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Dr. Vidwan received her medical degree from University College Dublin, in Ireland and completed her pediatric residency at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. She is board certified in pediatrics and has special interest in maternal-child health, global health and community outreach.
Dr. Vidwan joins Sherman Alter, MD, and Hila Collins, CPNP, in the infectious disease as well as the team of pediatricians who provide care for infants, children and teens in the hospital on the general pediatric service at Dayton Children’s.