When your child is sick, you’ll do anything to help them feel better. So why doesn’t your provider always give them antibiotics? Dr. Fitzgerald explains the answer to this common question.

Transcript Below

Dr. Fitzgerald: Hello, I’m Ralph Fitzgerald. I’m a pediatrician at MD Pediatrics, and today I’m going to discuss a question that comes up frequently in our clinic. “Why do we treat some children with antibiotics who come in that are ill, and some we do not?”

Why don’t all sick kids need antibiotics?

Dr. Fitzgerald: The first thing to understand in answering that question is that viruses and bacteria cause the vast majority of illnesses, and that viruses cause 70-80% of those illnesses. Unfortunately, antibiotics do not kill nor hurt viruses in any way.

What harm could it do?

Dr. Fitzgerald: Some parents will then ask, “While that may be true, what harm does it do to go ahead and treat with antibiotics anyway if there’s a chance that it may be helpful?” That’s also a very good question, and the answer is that antibiotics can cause potential serious side effects and reactions. 

1. Side Effects

Dr. Fitzgerald: Number one, antibiotics can sometimes cause significant and even life-threatening allergic reactions that can lead to ER visits or, potentially, even hospitalizations, and obviously no one would want that unnecessarily.

2. Gastrointestinal Effects

Dr. Fitzgerald: Number two, antibiotics can also cause significant GI side effects, such as vomiting or, more commonly, diarrhea. And a type of diarrhea called C. difficile, which is directly caused by antibiotics, is an increasingly common reason for hospitalization. 

3. Bacterial Resistance

Dr. Fitzgerald: Number three, bacteria are more likely to develop resistance when antibiotics are used multiple times, which is not good for the child or society.

For all of these reasons, as well as cost, it is in the child’s best interest not to be treated with an antibiotic unless we are fairly sure that we are treating a bacterial illness.

Hopefully this has been helpful, and I hope you have a healthy and happy day.