Antibiotics -- great advances on the front of modern medicine...or dangerous medications that cause more harm than good? The answer lies somewhere in between. If you're the parent of a child who has suffered from a bacterial infection such as pneumonia or strep throat, you've experienced the benefits of antibiotics firsthand. Seeing your previously listless baby make a dramatic turnaround, or finally getting a full night's sleep after having been awake the past three nights with your fussy, feverish toddler can make you appreciate the value of antibiotics. It might even tempt you to run to your doctor and plead for another antibiotic at the first hint of your child's next illness. Be wary, though, because all that glitters is not gold. Side effects and resistant bacteria have created a double-edged sword with these medicines. Here are the most up-to-date facts about antibiotics to help you avoid misusing these medications.
Antibiotics are medications that either kill bacteria or prevent them from multiplying. They work only against bacteria, not the viruses that cause the majority of sore throats, colds, sinus infections, and bronchitis. Sometimes doctors can tell that your child has a bacterial infection just by examining him, but other times making a diagnosis requires analyzing a culture (grown from a sample taken with a cotton swab). The fact that your child has a fever, has colored mucus, or has been sick for more than a week does not help determine whether he has a bacterial infection or a viral infection. And these symptoms aren't necessarily reason enough to prescribe an antibiotic. For bacterial infections, antibiotics work quickly; symptoms usually improve dramatically within 24 to 48 hours of starting the medicine. Many times, children feel completely well shortly after beginning the antibiotic course. To really beat the bacterial infection, though, it's important that your child finish the entire course as prescribed -- stopping short could cause him to get sick again.