October 6-10 is the first Get Smart About Antibiotics Week. It is designed to help all of us learn when it is appropriate and safe to take an antibiotic or give one to our children.
Often parents see a child with a cold (sore throat, sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, flu symptoms) and they want the doctor to prescribe an antibiotic, “the magic medicine,” to make it go away. There usually is no such medicine, but sometimes a doctor will comply with the request to please the troubled parent. The fact is that most colds and flu, even most cases of bronchitis, are caused by viruses and antibiotics do not work on viruses – they fight bacteria.
Taking an antibiotic for a virus can cause more harm than good. It won’t cure the problem or make you feel better (time will likely do that), but it may encourage your body to begin building up a resistance to the antibiotic. If resistance occurs and you end up requiring the antibiotic for a bacterial infection in the future, it may not work for you. That’s why it is important to take antibiotics only when they are appropriate and not to ask for them “just to be safe.” The CDC has some very good information about when to use antibiotics.
And while we’re on the subject of medications, remember not to give over-the-counter cough and cold products to infants and children younger than 2 years of age. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, these medications can have serious and life-threatening side effects. Read more about over-the-counter medications.