As a parent, there is nothing worse than watching your child suffer through a bad case of the flu or a particularly nasty case of strep throat. Your first inclination is to get your kid to the doctor immediately but on weekends or over holidays, you turn to an urgent care center, a telemedicine service or house call service, because you assume your regular pediatrician is unavailable.   We understand this impulse, but we want to send you a word of caution why this might not be the best choice.

The provider you will see through these services generally are well-meaning but have a different perspective than your pediatrician.  They do not know you nor do they know your child’s history.  They don’t have the luxury of knowing you over time, nor do they have the luxury of knowing we can continue to follow this illness together over time.   So sometimes they cover their bases to make sure they have covered all the possible reasons your child is sick, and unfortunately this often means antibiotics are used unnecessarily. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributes this inappropriate overuse of antibiotics as the leading cause of the growing issue of antibiotic resistance.

We recommend that when are considering a trip to urgent care or getting a telemedicine consult, think about calling us first.  Together we can develop a plan that may save you that visit/expense/time and work out a plan that makes sense and provides the best care possible. Sometimes the plan will be to yes! go to the urgent care and get that throat swabbed so you can get back to work/school on Monday.  But sometimes it’s, slow down, do a few things that comfort your child and WATCH.  Observe.  Let’s stay in contact.  Even when our office is closed, we have a physician on call 24/7/365.  We are always available for a conversation if you need us.

Unnecessary Antibiotic Prescriptions

While urgent care providers are only doing their jobs, they may be giving your child a medication that may or may not be the necessary treatment. According to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics, up to 10 million antibiotic prescriptions are written unnecessarily every year.

In far too many cases, health practitioners prescribe antibiotics to treat viral infections, such as the common cold. However, antibiotics are only effective in treating bacterial infections, for example strep throat, pneumonia or whooping cough. It is when antibiotics are prescribed wrongly that concerning issues arise, such as antibiotic resistance caused by antibiotic overuse.

Antibiotic Overuse in Children

There is no question that antibiotics have been an extremely good thing; so many fewer people die of bacterial infections than in the our grandparents’ time.  Too much of a good thing, however, can have serious consequences. While antibiotics can be the exact medication to prescribe in some cases, taking it unnecessarily may lead to health issues down the road for your child, which include:

  • As with any medication, there are side effects to taking antibiotics. Diarrhea, stomach pain, vomiting, development of a drug allergy (rash, hives, even life-threatening anaphylaxis), severe diaper rash.
  • Antibiotics destroy large populations of bacteria throughout the body, some of which are extremely helpful.  We are learning more and more that our body’s own “flora,” or native bacterial populations have profound impact on our health and perhaps even mental health.  Antibiotics do not discriminate against helpful vs. pathological bacteria – we aren’t that talented yet.  We don’t even know all the consequences of repeatedly weakening or destroying our flora.
  • Using antibiotics increases the risk of developing an antibiotic-resistant infection in YOUR CHILD in the future. Bacteria that are not killed by the antibiotic now have a wide open target to replicate and become our new flora.  Sometimes these are not friendly and are ready to hurt us down the line. Therefore, something as seemingly harmless as one too many antibiotic prescriptions for your child could mean a life-threatening ailment for them and loads of heartache and medical expenses for you.
  • Antibiotic resistance is also a worldwide health concern.  “Antibiotic resistance occurs when germs outsmart drugs,” explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “In today’s healthcare and community settings, we are already seeing germs stronger than the drugs we have to treat them.”  

Treating Viral Infections Properly

The responsibility to prevent antibiotic overuse in children lies with both the parents and their dedicated pediatricians. No one knows your child as well as you do, and your pediatrician understands your child’s medical background. You and your child’s doctor can work together to determine if an antibiotic is the appropriate treatment for whatever is ailing your little one.

You can soothe symptoms of a viral infection in your child by encouraging them to drink plenty of fluids and getting extra rest while they recover. To relieve nasal congestion, use a cool-mist vaporizer or nasal spray. Lozenges, sore throat sprays, and crushed ice can help ease the discomfort of a sore throat. Sadly, most over-the-counter cough and cold remedies do little to alter the course of the illness, but sometimes they can provide some relief of symptoms and we can help you choose what is best for your child.  

When Antibiotics are the Answer

Yes, in cases of bacterial infections, antibiotics are the best solution. As a parent, you can request that tests and/or cultures are administered to ensure the right antibiotic is prescribed.

Even if your child is diagnosed with a bacterial infection, there are still precautions to be taken. First, some bacterial infections can be observed without antibiotics.  Most ear and sinus infections will resolve over time without antibiotics.  We take into consideration the whole situation when we decide if antibiotics are even needed – the comfort level of the child, plans for a trip to Disney World at stake, previous history of infections, family history of complications, age and general health of the child.  You guessed it.  It’s complicated.  That’s why a partnership is so very important and why an urgent care simply can’t cut it all the time.  

If an antibiotic is prescribed, it should be taken as directed. The full course should be administered, and no days or doses should be skipped. If a follow-up appointment with your pediatrician is recommended, don’t miss it because your child is feeling better. Making sure there is no sign of persistence is important, and we can talk about potential prevention of these infections further.

Here at Southwest Pediatric Associates, the doctors, nurse practitioners and our entire staff at our Austin and Lakeway clinics are dedicated to your family. We know your children’s medical history and are invested in our patients’ health as well as building a long-term relationship with you and your child. Whether your kid is dealing with a cold, pneumonia, or anything else, the staff at Southwest Pediatric is always available to help diagnose the issue and determine the best course of treatment.