The Dangers of Antibiotic Overuse in Children

Antibiotics have been used since the 1940s, and are one of medicines most beneficial discoveries.  In the past decade, antibiotics have been severely overprescribed. The overuse and inappropriate use of antibiotics has led to an antibiotic resistance, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to call the situation one of the “world’s most pressing public health problems.”

Antibiotics are one of the most commonly prescribed medication classes for children in the U.S. today.  Unfortunately, millions of these prescriptions are totally unnecessary (according to a study in the 2009 issue of Pediatrics), given for viral illnesses, for which they are of no benefit at all (except to temporarily satisfy the parent into thinking this will cure their child).

Due to the popular and inappropriate use of antibiotics, we are now faced with a rampant increase of bacteria that have become immune to the common antibiotics prescribed to fight infections. When antibiotics are overprescribed, the germs become resistant to them, requiring stronger antibiotics to fight future infections.  If we continue to treat every illness with antibiotics, we will be faced with three potentially dangerous things:  exposing our children to the antibiotic’s potential side effects when the antibiotic was not necessary in the first place; strengthening their resistance to antibiotics, requiring stronger antibiotics for the next infection; and contributing to the widespread overuse of antibiotics in our country, leading to the growth of new bacteria strains, known as “superbugs” that are resistant to antibiotics.

We need to educate our country as to when antibiotics are needed and when they are more of a detriment than a benefit.  Antibiotics kill bacteria – not viruses. If your child has a runny nose, the flu, a scratchy throat, fifth disease, or earache, antibiotics will not provide any benefit at all.  These are all viruses, and only time, rest, and good, old-fashioned chicken soup will help.

Treating a virus with an antibiotic will kill off the healthy bacteria (good flora, known as probiotics) in your child’s body, forcing your child to become more resistant to future infections. However, if your child is diagnosed with a bacterial infection, antibiotics will help cure him. Some examples of bacterial infections are meningitis, Strep throat, bacterial pneumonia, bladder infections, fungus, parasites, and do require antibiotics to fight the bacteria.  Keep in mind that some bacteria and germs are necessary for your body to build immunity in order to be able to fight off future illnesses.

It seems that ear infections are the most common complaint for which antibiotic prescriptions are written in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.  “80% of children whose ear infections are not treated immediately with antibiotics, get better on their own.”  If antibiotics are used too often in cases they cannot treat, such as colds or viral infections, they will stop working effectively against bacteria when you truly need an antibiotic to treat your child.

Some facts you should know:  Antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing public health threats; antibiotics are one of the most important tools we have to combat life-threatening bacterial infections, but can also lead to side effects; antibiotic use leads to new drug-resistant germs and increased risk to patients. Did you know that acetaminophen and antibiotics together in children increased the risk of developing asthma, eczema and rhinoconjunctivitis (itchy, watery eyes)?

Avoid the overuse of antibiotics, especially in children whose immune systems are still developing.  Sometimes, when we cannot afford to miss another day of work, we run to the doctor, hoping for that magic prescription to cure our children quickly. What we do not realize is that we may be harming our children rather than helping them.

If the doctor does not recommend treating with an antibiotic, there is probably a good reason. If it is a viral infection and you insist on an antibiotic, all that your child will receive is a bad belly-ache and a possible adverse reaction. More than 142,000 people are rushed to the emergency room each year from adverse reactions to antibiotics, according to a 2008 article in Clinical Infectious Diseases, and an estimated 70,000 of those cases may be a result of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions. In addition, you will be contributing to the strengthening of the superbug.

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