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Ill African American girl blowing a nose at home while her mother is consoling her.

Does My Child Need Antibiotics?

By Dr. Drusilla Powell, Chesapeake Pediatrics

One of the most common questions I hear is “Does my child need an antibiotic?” Antibiotics do not help viral illnesses such as colds and the flu, runny noses, and most sore throats. However, antibiotics do fight bacterial infections such as strep throat, whooping cough, urinary tract infections, and some sinus and ear infections. Therefore, unless your child has a bacterial infection, an antibiotic may do more harm than good.

What Parents Need to Know

  • Antibiotics do have risks. They can cause diarrhea, vomiting, or even a serious or life-threatening allergic reaction.
  • Anytime antibiotics are used, they can cause antibiotic resistance. When this occurs, bacteria no longer respond to the drugs designed to kill them. Then, even stronger antibiotics may be needed to cure infection.
  • Antibiotics aren’t always the answer when your child is sick. Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections, not viral infections. Ask your provider for ways to help relieve your child’s symptoms without antibiotics.
  • When your child does need an antibiotic, the benefits outweigh any risk of side effects or concern for antibiotic resistance.
  • If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, take the medication exactly as directed and for the full duration of prescribed treatment.
  • Keep your child healthy by washing hands, covering coughs, and getting all recommended vaccinations. Upon arrival at home after school, removing school clothes that may be carrying germs and changing into play clothes may further decrease risk of infection. Adequate sleep and proper nutrition also lessen your child’s likelihood of getting sick.

Your Child May Need An Antibiotic If:

  • They have a cough that lasts for more than 14 days.
  • They have whooping cough or pneumonia.
  • They have symptoms of a sinus infection that lasts more than 10-14 days. Symptoms that improve for several days and then worsen may also be a sign of a bacterial infection which may require an antibiotic.
  • They have a yellowish-green nasal discharge and a fever of 101°F or greater for several days.
  • A test for strep throat performed in your doctor’s office is positive.
  • Your baby – younger than 3 months – has a fever greater than 100.4°F. If this occurs, call your pediatrician right away. Infants can develop serious infections that require antibiotics.

If your child is sick and you think they may need an antibiotic, schedule a visit with your pediatrician. Many CHKD pediatricians now offer online scheduling, even for same-day sick appointments. Click here to book same-day sick appointments.

More from the AAP: Antibiotic Prescriptions for Children: 10 Common Questions Answered

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About CHKD Medical Group

About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.

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