Despite a growing concern in the medical community over antibiotic resistance, parents still request that pediatricians prescribe such medications for their children even when the antibiotics are unnecessary, according to a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Researchers surveyed 400 parents and 61 pediatricians and found that 18 percent of parents give their children antibiotics without consulting a physician. Nine out of 10 parents thought antibiotics were needed for ear infections, eight out of 10 thought antibiotics were needed for throat infections and 6 out of 10 thought antibiotics were needed for cough and fever. On the other hand, the physicians surveyed felt like the medication was not needed in most cases.

Since 1928, when Alexander Fleming first isolated penicillin, Americans young and old have depended on antibiotics to treat a wide range of once-fatal bacterial infections.

But in recent years, the reputation of penicillin and derivative drugs as cure-alls has declined. Today, every disease-causing bacteria now has strains that resist some antibiotics.

The medications are still the weapons of choice in fighting a host of serious infections. But in some instances, their effectiveness has decreased because of overuse.

Inappropriate use is a factor as well. Even though antibiotics have no effect on viral infections, many parents give them to their children to relieve the common cold. They give them to youngsters unnecessarily to prevent infections.

There are other reasons antibiotics may not do the job as well as they should. Experts estimate that one-third to one-half of those taking them skip doses or fail to complete the entire regimen. Some people use leftover, out-of-date pills that may be toxic or no longer appropriate to treat the problem.

Sometimes unsuitable antibiotics are prescribed. A broad-spectrum antibiotic may be recommended, for example, when one targeted to fight a specific bacteria would be more helpful. Or an antibiotic may be prescribed before the individual is examined or the type of bacteria identified.

In addition, interactions with other drugs or substances can neutralize the potency of an antibiotic. Dairy products and iron supplements, for instance, may block the absorption of tetracycline (seldom used in pediatrics) from the digestive track into the bloodstream.

Parents should know the following guidelines for using antibiotics effectively:

• Have a health care provider determine what type of infection your child has.

• Tell the doctor if your child is allergic to or has experienced side effects from antibiotics taken previously.

• Describe other drugs your child is taking.

• Ask about possible side effects of the recommended medication and what foods to avoid while taking it.

• Most antibiotics are prescribed for 10 days to two weeks; make sure your youngster completes the entire regimen, even if he or she feels fine within a few days.

• Don’t share prescription medications with anyone else.

• Get rid of old, partially used bottles of antibiotics appropriately.

• Ask if the antibiotics are really necessary

While antibiotics have hardly outlived their usefulness, using them more judiciously will help preserve their power to heal your child.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital, and Keith Bly is an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UTMB Pediatric Urgent Care Clinics. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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