Rx or Not? Do These Illnesses Need Antibiotics?

Children come with an endless list of reasons to make parents worry. It’s in their DNA. And parents with children would attest that as, “little germ carriers,” they can get sick at a moment’s notice. So what’s a new mom to do? Ride it out or see a doctor? If you go the doctor route and an antibiotic is prescribed, do you know whether it’s even needed? The bad news is that bacteria are prone to changing their makeup and morphing into new strains, which can make antibiotics ineffective. If a child, in turn, takes the medicine frequently enough, his system is at a greater risk for developing a resistant strain, and the antibiotic becomes completely useless. Adding to the problem is that doctors are prescribing antibiotics way more than they should, and often when the illness doesn’t even call for one. To avoid this scenario, familiarize yourself with common illnesses and their preferred method of treatment. Here are eight illnesses that do (and don’t) need antibiotics.


The common cold

Does this require an antibiotic: No

Why not: The common cold is a viral illness that doesn’t respond to antibiotics. If your child is currently nursing a cold, it’s best to let it run its course. Even if it’s at a slower pace, if your child is on the mend, he doesn’t need an antibiotic.

A sinus infection (sinusitis)

Does this require an antibiotic: It depends

Why: If a sinus infection is severe enough your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic. In most cases, a sinus infection will go away on its own and your pediatrician will want to wait out the seven to 10 days first. If it persists or has become worse (worsening symptoms include green discharge, nasal congestion, facial pain and a sinus headache) and now includes a fever, an antibiotic may be needed.

An ear infection

Does this require an antibiotic: It depends

Why: Middle-ear infections are common for kids, and antibiotics are often prescribed, even though 80 percent of all infections go away without them. The best plan of attack is to wait a few days and use a kids’ pain reliever for discomfort. If your child is little (under two years old) and exhibits severe symptoms, he can take oral antibiotics to resolve or use antibiotic ear drops.

A sore throat

Does this require an antibiotic: It depends

Why: The only time a pediatrician will prescribe an antibiotic for a sore throat is if she suspects it could be strep, otherwise known as Group A Streptococcus, which can cause pneumonia, toxic shock, and sepsis. If your child does have strep, the antibiotic is administered to prevent serious complications like rheumatic fever. To determine whether it’s strep, your doctor will do a throat culture, with results ranging from one to two days. Most of the time, doctors will hold off on prescribing an antibiotic until after the test results come back.


Does this require an antibiotic: Yes

Why: Nine times out of 10, the inflammation of your child’s eyelids and eyes is bacterial, though other things can cause the irritation. Because pinkeye is highly contagious, doctors almost always prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment since topical treatments heal faster and are less likely to result in resistance.


Does this require an antibiotic: No

Why not: The short answer is that bronchitis, an inflammation of the lining of the tubes that carry air to the lungs, is almost never bacterial. Most of the time bronchitis is simply an extension of the cold or flu. If your pediatrician does suspect a bacterial cause, he may order further testing and depending on the results prescribe antibiotics.  


Does this require an antibiotic: It depends

Why: The scary thing about lung infections is that they can be both viral or bacteria, which makes it hard to treat them, even for doctors. Most of the time when a child has pneumonia, it’s viral. Whether or not your doctor prescribes an antibiotic is dependent on your child’s symptoms and the results of a thorough exam.

Lyme Disease

Does this require an antibiotic: Yes

Why: A staggering 25% of all Lyme Disease cases occur in kids. If you suspect your child has Lyme Disease (a bull’s-eye rash is a common identifier), have blood tests done with your doctor ASAP. Early treatment is essential for avoiding long-term complications like heart or neurological damage. If confirmed, your doctor should prescribe a two- to four-week course of antibiotics. Other symptoms of Lyme Disease include fatigue, difficulty thinking or speaking, and complaining of headaches and nausea.

If you’re not sure why your child’s doctor has prescribed an antibiotic, ask. And with all things health-related, each individual case may vary. At the end of the day, if a scenario doesn’t call for an antibiotic, there’s no sense in taking it. Not when rest, fluids and plenty of TLC will do the trick.  

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