All About Antibiotics

How Are Antibiotics Prescribed?

All antibiotics are not created equal.

That's an important concept: just because the pink stuff worked for your child's last ear infection doesn't mean that it's the best choice for your daughter's pneumonia. Different antibiotics are designed to fight different types of bacteria. There's some overlap, so doctors can sometimes choose based on taste or dosing schedule. Broad-spectrum antibiotics -- such as cefdinir (Omnicef) and amoxicillin-clavulanic acid (Augmentin) -- target many different kinds of bacteria and are used in special circumstances, such as to treat recurrent ear infections or pneumonia. Narrow-spectrum antibiotics (e.g., amoxicillin and penicillin) target only a few strains of bacteria; these are used to treat conditions such as uncomplicated skin infections, ordinary ear infections, and most strep throat infections. These drugs are also commonly prescribed over broad-spectrum antibiotics because they have fewer side effects and because doctors don't want to allow resistant strains of bacteria to grow. Using a broad-spectrum antibiotic to treat a simple ear infection is like using a bazooka to kill a fly. It will work, but the collateral damage may be worse than the bug you were going after.

The Scoop on Meds

These antibiotics are often used for kids. Adults take them, too, but in stronger strengths and not as a liquid.

  • Penicillins (Amoxicillin and penicillin g) They're commonly prescribed for simple ear infections and bacterial sinus infections. While they've been traditionally used to treat strep throat, this usage is starting to fall out of favor because penicillins aren't as effective against strep as previously believed. They're well-known for their bubblegum flavor and are given twice a day, usually for 10 days.
  • Beta-lactamase inhibitors (Amoxicillin-Clavulanic Acid and Augmentin) These are prescribed for more complicated ear infections or for children with a history of recurrent ear infection. Plus, they're used for more complicated sinus infections and some forms of pneumonia. Because of their chalky consistency, kids usually dislike them. They're given twice a day, usually for 10 days.
  • Cephalosporins (Omnicef and Cedax) These are also prescribed for complicated ear infections, for children with a history of recurrent ear infection, and for bacterial sinus infections. They are sometimes used as an alternative to Augmentin, because of more preferable taste and once-daily dosing, but studies have shown that these antibiotics may not be as strong as Augmentin.
  • Macrolides (Zithromax) These are prescribed for whooping cough and walking pneumonia and can be given for shorter courses, such as three or five days. A one-time dose is sometimes available. The reviews on taste are mixed.
  • Sulfa drugs (Septra and Bactrim) They're used to treat resistant staph infections and urinary tract infections; they can cause rashes on sun-exposed skin.

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