The Pros and Cons of Antibiotics

Are antibiotics one of the greatest advances in medicine or a threat to the health of your children? Although the word “threat” might be a little strong, the basic answer is that they are both. That antibiotics have been helpful goes without saying. Thanks to the use of antibiotics, today's pediatricians rarely see kids with problems like rheumatic fever or mastoiditis (a complication of untreated ear infections) and kids are able to survive serious infections such as meningitis, pneumonia, and infections of the blood and bones.

Antibiotics don't help every kind of infection, though. They won't help when your child has a simple cold — even if he has a green runny nose — or any other infection caused by a virus. Overusing antibiotics, or using them when they aren't needed, also carries the risk of creating bacteria that become resistant to the antibiotics. This means the antibiotics don't work when they really are needed.

Resistant bacteria are one of the main reasons that your child might need two or three different antibiotics to treat a chronic ear or sinus infection, and why some bacteria, like MRSA, that cause skin infections can't be treated with standard medications. To help prevent the overuse of antibiotics, don't ask for an antibiotic every time that your baby has a fever, green runny nose, or a cough, or when your pediatrician says that it isn't necessary. Just because you see your pediatrician doesn't mean that you have to walk out with a prescription for an antibiotic.

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