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Antibiotic Overuse

Combating the Overuse of Antibiotics

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Updated June 26, 2011

Here are some steps you can take to help combat the overuse of antibiotics:
  • Don't ask for antibiotics when they aren't needed. When your child is sick, ask for a specific diagnosis. If your doctor diagnoses your child as having a cold, upper respiratory tract infection (URI), bronchitis or the flu, then antibiotics usually shouldn't be prescribed. You also don't need antibiotics if your child has a sore throat and a negative test for strep. If your doctor gives you an antibiotic every time your child has a sore throat and doesn't test for strep, that is a good sign that your child is taking antibiotics unnecessarily.
  • Learn the difference between viruses and bacteria. You don't expect or demand antibiotics when your child has other common viral infections, such as chickenpox or gastroenteritis (diarrhea), so why should you get them when your child has a cold or the flu? There is something about a green or yellow runny nose that makes people think ANTIBIOTICS, but remember that is most likely a virus causing that green runny nose and not necessarily a sinus infection unless it has been lingering for 10-14 days or more.
  • Tell your doctor that you don't expect antibiotics every time your child is sick, especially when they aren't needed. This will help combat the myth that 'parent's just want antibiotics when they go to the doctor.' Often parents just go to the doctor to make sure their child doesn't have an ear infection or something else more serious and they are often relieved that it is 'just a cold.'

    Or, at the beginning of your doctor visit, you could say something like, 'I think it is just a cold and he needs to get better on his own, but I wanted to make sure his ears were okay.' You could also send or present your doctor with this letter about antibiotic overuse, which declares that you don't expect antibiotics when they aren't necessary.

    There is nothing wrong with going to the doctor when your child is sick and you don't have to wait for 7-10 days of cold symptoms to go in if you aren't comfortable doing that, but make it clear that you don't necessarily want an antibiotic unless it is really needed.

  • Ask about what you can do to make your child feel better. That is your real goal anyway, right? Symptomatic treatment with over-the-counter or prescription strength cold and cough medicines, pain and fever relievers, a humidifier and lots of fluids can help to make your child feel better until he gets over his infection.
  • When you are prescribed an antibiotic, take it as prescribed, finish it, and throw out any that is leftover. Don't stop taking an antibiotic once you feel better or save an antibiotic to use again later.
  • Educate day care providers that children can usually return to day care when they no longer have a fever. Excluding kids from day care when they have a fever is reasonable, but requiring a doctor's note or an antibiotic prescription to return is wrong. Have your doctor fill out this letter so that your child can return to day care.
  • Ask your doctor to educate you about your child's illnesses and appropriate treatments. It is easier and faster to just write a prescription for Amoxil or another antibiotic than to teach a parent about when antibiotics are needed, the problems of resistance, etc., but in the long run, you both save a lot of time if you do things right and don't overuse antibiotics.
  • If your doctor can't take the time to teach you about the proper use of antibiotics, there are lots of resources online that will, including:

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