Your child is running a fever, coughing and complaining of an earache. If your first thought is to get an antibiotic from the doctor, think again.

Doctors are taking a stricter stance against antibiotic use—and for good reason. According to a study published in Pediatrics, American children take as many as 11 million needless antibiotics each year, which may put their health at risk.

“Like all medicines, antibiotics have side effects, including stomach upset and diarrhea,” says Rachel Orscheln, MD, a Washington University pediatric infectious disease physician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “When they’re used unnecessarily, children are given the risks of treatment—for example, an increased likelihood of developing an infection caused by an antibiotic-resistant germ—without the benefits.”

Worth the Wait
Most childhood illnesses, including respiratory infections, are caused by viruses, Dr. Orscheln says. They don’t respond to antibiotics, which target bacteria. Because viruses typically resolve without treatment, you can feel safe taking a “wait-and-see” approach if your child is older than 6 months and has mild ear pain, a cough, a low-grade fever or a runny nose.

Other conditions, such as strep throat or a severe ear infection, may require an antibiotic. See the doctor if your child has a persistent fever or other concerning or severe symptoms.

Have a question about your child’s symptoms? Download our free “Kid Care” app.


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