Parents: Do You Really Know When Antibiotics Are Needed?

Kevin Zywiol

| 3 min read

Antibiotics are strong drugs that treat bacterial illnesses and infections, but they won't do a thing for illnesses caused by viruses such as colds, the flu, and most bronchitis and sore throats. The article "Antibiotics aren't always the answer" on page 27 in our spring issue of Good Health outlines the reasons why you shouldn't expect an antibiotic from your doctor every time you're ill. It's the same when it comes to sick kids. Parents often ask — and sometimes demand — the pediatrician to prescribe antibiotics for their infants and young children. If you're a parent, you want your child to feel better as soon as possible. According to, some parents may be surprised at times, or even angry, if they leave the doctor's office empty-handed. But antibiotics won't cure your child's illness if a virus is causing it. They won't make him or her feel better or keep others from catching the illness. Viruses typically go away within a few days. The best treatment options are usually rest or over-the-counter medicines to manage symptoms, such as a fever or a runny nose. Here are a few things the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants every parent to know before heading off to see the pediatrician or visiting the urgent care center:
  1. Antibiotics are life-saving drugs. Using antibiotics wisely is the best way to make sure they're still effective in the future.
  2. Antibiotics treat only bacterial infections, not viruses. If your child has a virus such as a cold, talk to the doctor or a pharmacist about over-the-counter medicines, a humidifier, warm liquids and other ways to relieve symptoms.
  3. Some ear infections don't require an antibiotic. Your child's doctor can determine the kind of ear infection your child has and if antibiotics will help. Some doctors wait a couple of days before prescribing antibiotics because your child may get better without them.
  4. Most sore throats don't require an antibiotic. The CDC says only one in five children seen by a doctor for a sore throat actually has strep throat. Your child's doctor can test to confirm strep throat. And in those cases, your child should be treated with an antibiotic.
  5. Green colored mucus isn't a sign an antibiotic is needed. As the body's immune system fights off an infection, mucus can change color. This is normal and doesn't necessarily mean your child needs an antibiotic.
  6. There are potential risks when taking any prescription drug. Antibiotic use can cause complications, ranging from an upset stomach to a serious allergic reaction. Your child's doctor will weigh the risks and benefits before prescribing an antibiotic.
For more information on antibiotics, visit the CDC's Get Smart campaign website. This video from the CDC also provides information about these strong drugs: The best approach to nursing your child back to good health is to work with your pediatrician. Follow your doctor's instructions carefully and be sure your child takes medicine exactly as prescribed. If you're a Blue Care Network member, you can also call the 24-hour Nurse Advice Line at 1-855-624-5214. If you're not sure how to treat an illness or have questions about the symptoms you or your children have, a nurse can help you. For additional information on how to communicate with your doctor before taking antibiotics, check this out:
Photo Credit: Amanda Truss
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