Many people these days still seem confused about when to take antibiotics, especially when it is about their kids. Below you will find some commonly asked questions or examples you might find helpful in making a decision about taking antibiotics.
Q: When should I start antibiotics? My son doesn’t have a fever so should I wait?
A: Antibiotics are very powerful drugs and should only be given if absolutely necessary. They are great life-savers but their overuse can be harmful, not only to your child but also to you and our environment.
Unless a test shows the presence of a bacterial infection, there’s a very high fever, or other treatments have shown no improvements within 10-14 days I would advise against using antibiotics for most common diseases and instead trying alternatives first.
In my practice I find that sore throats, bronchitis, coughs, or ear infections respond very well to herbal medicines that have no side effects and pose no risk to your child’s well-being.
Q: Is there a limit to how many times a child should be treated with antibiotics?
A: This is a very good question. In general, there is no specific number of times a child can or should be treated with antibiotics. This all depends on what kind of illness the child has and whether or not antibiotics are necessary or effective for this specific illness. Regarding the use of antibiotics in infants/children the consensus on this issue has certainly changed within recent years. We now know that antibiotics do not work for colds and flues and some studies even question their efficacy in the treatment of otitis media (ear infections) (bmj 1997;314:1526–9). Other acute respiratory infections such as sore throats, bronchitis, and coughs are often viral in nature as well and antibiotics do not work here. Antibiotics are strong drugs and it is safe to say that the greater the exposure the greater the chances of your child’s well-being to suffer long-term. Therefore I would limit the use of antibiotics in general to the absolute minimum.
Q: Our one year old is now going through his 3rd double ear infection in 2 months. He’s now on antibiotic #3 and it is making me sick. Anyone try alternative medicine with any luck?
A: Over the past 10 years I have treated many infants and children for ear infections by using only herbal remedies. Again and again I hear from parents how happy and surprised they are about the efficacy of those medicines. They work fast and are completely safe.
Q: Can antibiotics be harmful?
A: Antibiotics have been the one of the most important revelations in medicine and have saved many lives since the discovery of penicillin. Because of their potency they should be administered wisely and overusing them should not be taken lightly.
Antibiotics essentially kill off bacteria without distinguishing between harmful and beneficial ones. Your body depends on an abundance of beneficial bacteria (common, probiotics) for a multitude of tasks. For example, beneficial bacteria in your intestinal tract are of paramount importance for:
- Helping with the digestion and absorption of water and nutrients, your source of energy
- Regulating the development of a healthy digestive system
- Building and maintaining a healthy immune system
- Preventing allergies
- Providing a chemical protection barrier for your intestinal lining
- Repressing the growth of harmful microorganisms
- Defending against certain diseases, including certain types of cancers
- Preventing inflammation and inflammatory bowel disease
- New studies show that the body’s beneficial bacteria are even very important for a person’s mind, mood, and behavior (see article)
The overuse of antibiotics is especially detrimental for infants and young children as they weaken their fragile developing digestive- and immune systems. In my practice I see a lot of kids who have been on many rounds of antibiotics within their relatively short life. It is not uncommon to see youngsters who, by the age of five, have been on more than 20 rounds of antibiotics. Commonly those kids are tired, they are feeling cold easily, frequently get sick, have low appetite, and experience difficulties concentrating. Some will develop allergies and asthma (clin exp allergy 1999 Jun;29(6):766-71).
Comparing them to their peers who are energetic, alert, and most often run rather warm, I feel that these kids deserve a better start in life. If their parents had known of effective alternatives they could have helped their kids to develop a lot healthier.
Treating kids who suffered from the side effects of antibiotics is simple, gratifying, and important. However, if these early-life challenges are not addressed properly, these kids can face challenges throughout their adult lives that could have easily been avoided.
Common causes for the overuse of antibiotics are certainly recurrent ear- and other respiratory infections but also parents who demand antibiotics because they are not educated on the risks. Research shows today that ear infections treated with antibiotics will reoccur more frequently than ear infections not treated with antibiotics (bmj.2009;339:b2525). Other research questions their efficacy for otitis media in general (bmj.1997;314:1526–9). Recognizing this, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidelines for when to use antibiotics in common pediatric respiratory infections, including ear infections. Education about this topic is so important because only educated parents will make good decisions.
Q: Should a child take probiotics during or after an antibiotic treatment?
A: In general I recommend taking probiotics after the course of an antibiotic is completed unless the child experiences diarrhea as a side effect from the antibiotic. This is because antibiotics kill off bacteria, which probitics are. I only recommend taking probiotics in conjunction with the antibiotics in case your child experiences diarrhea as probiotics can lessen the severity of this side effect.