Are you enjoying the sounds of the holiday season? I am, but I'm also hearing coughing, sneezing and wheezing. It's also upper respiratory distress season and I'm seeing a lot of viral illnesses.
At this festive time, no one wants to be sick, so parents and patients want me to prescribe antibiotics for a plethora of viral illnesses "because it's a busy time of year, we're traveling and can't be sick."
According to an article in the November issue of Pediatrics, pediatricians write more than 10 million prescriptions for antibiotics unnecessarily each year. Antibiotics won't help a viral upper respiratory infection, and in many instances might be causing more harm than good. Sometimes this is a hard concept to get across to parents.
Everyone wants to be well sooner than later. Parents don't want to be sick and never want their children to be sick or feeling cruddy, yucky, pathetic or pitiful. We're the parents, so we can "fix" the problem, right? Unfortunately, a virus is bigger than any concerned parent, and even an antibiotic won't "fix it." In many cases, the only cure is "tincture of time" and that's often bitter medicine to swallow.
Antibiotics are effective against bacterial infection. An antibiotic that's prescribed for a cough or cold is typically broad spectrum and will kill good bacteria that are beneficial to our bodies. An antibiotic is not very specific, and by hitting everything in your body, it may upset the normal bacteria and lead to symptoms such as diarrhea or abdominal cramping.
In many cases of viral illness, it may be more appropriate to avoid an unnecessary antibiotic and "wait and see" how the illness progresses. If a child's symptoms worsen or change, it's better to re-examine the child rather than just prescribe an antibiotic.
Unfortunately, fall and winter upper respiratory illnesses don't go away quickly. In most cases, it takes 7 to14 days to get over the congestion, cough and sore throat, no matter what you do.
I've had patients go to outside clinics, receive a negative strep test, then be given antibiotics, and do not get any better. The good old Z-pack doesn't do the trick. By the time I see them, the sore throat has developed into a classic upper respiratory infection. Viruses are also contagious, so it's not uncommon for the entire family to succumb to the cold.
Here's a good rule of thumb: If you're told that you have a viral infection, you should not be getting an antibiotic. Keep up hand washing and good cough hygiene and don't assume an antibiotic will help.
DR. SUE HUBBARD is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.comCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times