Life with kids is tough enough, but when our family gets sick? It’s the worst. The kids stay home from school, nobody gets any sleep, we’re covered in snot, and everyone is completely miserable.
As parents, we end up picking up the slack, so we want everyone to get better as soon as possible. (Mostly, we want them to go back to school ASAFP, amiright?) This means we often end up at the doctor’s office, hoping for a prescription to speed up the healing process.
And if recent research is any indication, your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic, even if it’s not necessary. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “at least 30% of antibiotics prescribed in the U.S. are unnecessary,” especially in winter months.
The CDC estimates that every year in the U.S., 47 million antibiotic prescriptions are dispensed unnecessarily in doctor’s offices, emergency rooms, and hospital-based clinics.
The problem? Our overuse of antibiotics is causing a rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs.” This happens because weaker bacteria are killed off by antibiotics, but the stronger, more resistant bacteria are left to grow and multiply.
“[W]e are fast running out of treatment options,” says Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, the World Health Organization’s assistant director-general for health systems. “If we leave it to market forces alone, the new antibiotics we most urgently need are not going to be developed in time.”
This is alarming.
There is even a White House National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, which was created in 2015 with the goal of reducing inappropriate outpatient antibiotic use by 50% by the year 2020 and “to address urgent and serious drug-resistant threats that affect people in the U.S. and around the world.”
And the rise of superbugs isn’t the only reason to avoid excessive use of antibiotics. They can have unpleasant side effects, including diarrhea, thrush, antibiotic-resistant infections, and in some cases, severe allergic reactions.
So how do we reduce improper antibiotics use? How do we know when they’re really necessary?
1. Learn the difference between viral and bacterial illnesses.
A lot of common illnesses are caused by viruses, not bacteria — meaning that antibiotics literally cannot treat them. According to the CDC, these illnesses include:
– Influenza (the flu)
– Runny noses
– Most coughs
– Most bronchitis
– Most sore throats
– Most sinus infections
– Some ear infections
These viral infections typically go away within a week or two. Symptom relief is the best type of treatment in these cases, since antibiotics won’t cure the illness, make your kid feel better, or keep the illness from spreading.
According to the CDC, here are some ways to feel better when your child has a viral infection:
– Ask your health care professional about over-the-counter treatment options that may help reduce symptoms.
– Drink more fluids.
– Get plenty of rest.
– Use a cool-mist vaporizer or saline nasal spray to relieve congestion.
– Soothe your throat with crushed ice, sore throat spray, or lozenges. (Do not give lozenges to young children.)
– Use honey to soothe throat. (Note: Do not give honey to an infant under 1 year of age.)
– If you are diagnosed with the flu, there are flu antiviral drugs that can be used to treat flu illness. They are prescription drugs.
The CDC recently created this infographic to show which illnesses actually require antibiotics:
2. Do your research.
The CDC stresses that antibiotics should only be prescribed when necessary and that the right type of antibiotic be used for the correct duration. This means that antibiotic prescribing should be in line with evidence-based national and local clinic practice guidelines, which are available here.
3. Know what not to do.
The CDC advises that you should never demand antibiotics when your health care professional says they’re not needed. Don’t, under any circumstances, give a child (or take) antibiotics prescribed for someone else. And you should never “save” unused antibiotics for future use.
4. When antibiotics are deemed necessary, use them as directed.
Don’t skip doses, and make sure to follow the directions about dose and duration from your doctor.
The overuse of antibiotics is causing concern at a global level. Just the fact that the World Health Organization, CDC, and the (Obama) White House have spoken out about it should raise some red flags about how serious it has become. We can all do our part to help.
And for the love of all that is holy, if your kid is sick, please keep them home.