Back to School, Back to Colds and Flus
Why Antibiotics Many Not Be The Best Solution

September means back to school, and back to school means the beginning of cold and flu season. Imagine this: it's Friday evening and your child comes home from school feeling much worse than they did that morning. A runny nose, cough, and fever - all too familiar signs of the start of a cold or flu - are making both your child and you feel less than your best. Your first instinct may be to immediately get your child some antibiotics, with the hopes of making them feel better, but antibiotics can sometimes do more harm than good. So, what can you do? Consumer Reports, as a part of the Choosing Wisely® initiative,  offers some simple and cost-effective at-home actions that you can make to get your child feeling better, faster:
  • Stuffy noses can be helped by saltwater (saline) nose drops and sprays. For infants, use a rubber suction bulb to suck out the extra drops or spray. Putting a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer in their room can also help. Make sure to clean it everyday though.
  • For coughs, a half a teaspoon of honey can help children ages 1 to 5. Do not give honey to babies under 1 year - it is not safe. Use 1 teaspoon for kids ages 6 to 11, and 2 teaspoons for kids 12 and older.
  • Do not give your child aspirin for a fever, they have been linked to rare but serious illness in children. Up to 6 months, give only acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic). After 6 months, you can give them either acetaminophen or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, and generic).
  • Do not give an over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to children under 4. Many over-the-counter medications also contain acetaminophen, beware of double dosing.
So why can antibiotics be harmful? Firstly, know that antibiotics do not work on most respiratory illnesses, like the cold and flu, as they are caused by viruses - not bacteria . According to Consumer Reports and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) , side effects from antibiotics are a common reason children go to the emergency room. Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which can make your child's cold or flu feel that much worse. Additionally, about 5 in 100 children may be allergic to antibiotics . When your child doesn't feel well, getting them to feel better as quickly as possible can make all the difference. Remember, nothing can replace the care determined between you and your child's doctor.
Other than these potentially dangerous side effects, what are other reasons antibiotics can be harmful to you and your family? Overuse of antibiotics has lead to a rise in resistant strains that pose their own serious problems. Consumer Reports and the Infectious Diseases Society of America point out that these "superbugs" could be more easily transmittable to other family members and are very difficult to fight. They are also costly; requiring hospital stays and expensive treatments, adding up to about $20 billion per year in the U.S. Superbugs may also cause death. Antibiotics should only be taken when necessary and in consultation with your doctor.
But what can you do to prevent colds, flus, and other respiratory illnesses? An easy thing to do is to make sure you and your child wash your hands with plain soap and water. Consumer Reports and the AAP also advise that children over 6 months of age should receive a yearly flu vaccine. Using the above actions can help get your child feeling better faster, but speaking with your doctor can help determine the best kind of care for you and your family. Asking the 5 Questions can help you get started.

For more information on what to do when your child has a respiratory illness, please click here .

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