Expert Advice: Does my son need antibiotics for his cold that won’t go away?

By Dr. Courtney Manser, Family Physician on December 01, 2014

 

Question

My son can't seem to shake his cold. Should I ask my doctor to prescribe an antibiotic?

Answer

In short, the answer is no. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections such as pneumonia, strep throat, ear infections and bacterial sinus infections. Most childhood respiratory tract infections are viral. Bronchitis, a common reason parents request antibiotics, is viral 99 percent of the time. The trouble with overusing antibiotics is that it can lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria. This means that the antibiotics may not work when your child needs them most, putting your child and others at risk. Our choices of antibiotics are becoming more and more limited with time as bacteria no longer respond to the antibiotics that are intended to treat them.

So why does your child always seem to get better after starting an antibiotic for a cold? The likely explanation is that, since viruses are self-limited, the cold was going to resolve in that time frame anyway. However, there are many warning signs that your child has more than just a cold. Seek medical attention immediately if your child experiences:

  • shortness of breath
  • a cough lasting longer than two weeks
  • a fever lasting longer than five days
  • ear pain
  • difficulty staying hydrated
  • painful/difficulty swallowing.

Chronic cough is not always infectious and may be a sign that your child has another condition such as asthma, which requires puffers.If you are ever unsure or worried, speak with your physician and address your concerns, but avoid pressuring them for antibiotics.

 

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, December 2014.

By Dr. Courtney Manser, Family Physician| December 01, 2014
  Health

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