Does your child need antibiotics, or will home remedies do?

Posted by Stephanie Maves, M.D.
April 28, 2015

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For parents, it can be hard to tell whether your child’s illness requires antibiotics or if there are other ways to effectively treat their symptoms. In order to prevent overuse of these drugs, it’s important to know which situations can use home remedies instead of antibiotics. The more you treat your child with antibiotics, the more likely they are to get sick with an antibiotic-resistant infection in the future.

Ear infections

If your child has an ear infection, consider using over-the-counter pain relievers in place of antibiotics. Children’s ear infections usually improve within two to three days, especially for kids who are two years or older. If your child’s health doesn’t improve within a few days, it would be wise to take them in to see their provider.

Experts recommend antibiotics for an ear infection in the following instances:

  • If your child is six months or younger
  • If your child is between six months and two years old and has moderate to severe pain
  • If your child is two years or older with severe symptoms

If your child has ear tubes and develops an ear infection, you should try using antibiotic eardrops instead of oral antibiotics. Eardrops are more effective than oral antibiotics in this case because the tubes allow the antibiotics to travel straight into the middle ear, where most infections are located. Eardrops are also not as likely to cause resistant bacteria as oral antibiotics.

However, you should ask for oral antibiotics if your child’s infection doesn’t get better with the eardrops. If your child is severely ill, it may be better to use oral antibiotics instead of the eardrops.

Cold, flu and other respiratory infections

Don’t use antibiotics to treat your child’s cold, flu and most other respiratory infections. Viruses cause most respiratory infections, and antibiotics do not treat viruses; antibiotics fight bacteria. Instead, offer your child warm liquids, such as tea or soup. These can have a soothing effect and loosen mucus. Over-the-counter saline nasal drops or saline spray can also help loosen nasal mucus. Try running a cool-mist humidifier in the child’s room or steam from a hot shower for additional relief.

Strep throat and cough

Bacteria cause strep throat. However, most children with the symptoms of strep throat actually have a virus. You should ask for a strep throat test before turning to antibiotics to cure your child’s symptoms. Ice cream, frozen fruit pops or cold beverages may help soothe a sore throat. Older children can try gargling salt water or sucking on throat lozenges. Always encourage your child to get enough rest so their bodies have a chance to recover.

Consider getting antibiotics for your child when a cough

persists for 14 days or more. Antibiotics are also necessary if a doctor diagnoses your child with a bacterial infection, such as strep throat.

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