Does My Child Need Antibiotics?

by Dr. Jennifer Brannon

When your little one is sick it is hard to know if antibiotics can help.  Depending on the symptoms, each situation can be different. It can be overwhelming as a parent with a child that is not acting normally or crying nonstop.


Most children will get multiple colds each year, and this is normal. Most runny noses and coughs are due to an illness like a cold caused by a virus. Antibiotics do not cure a cold, and most colds last 7-10 days and resolve on their own. It is important to help your child feel as comfortable as possible and make sure they stay well hydrated. A cool mist humidifier may help. Honey (for children over 1) can soothe a cough with less side effects than over the counter medications.

Ear pain

If your child has a fever and ear pain, they may need to see a doctor for a diagnosis. In the meantime, you can keep them comfortable and hydrated.  Older children may be able to have their pain controlled with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and they may be able to get by without antibiotics.  If they are not in horrible pain or very sick acting, you can wait a day or two and see if the symptoms resolve. Reasons to call your doctor right away are: young age (less than 2), severe ear pain, severe irritability, decreased fluid intake, pain that persists more than 2 days.

Sinus Infection

If your child has had a runny nose and cough for 10-14 days without getting better, he may need antibiotics to treat a sinus infection. As stated above, most colds will improve on their own, but if they last this long seeing a doctor is a good idea.

Strep Throat

A sore throat and fever may be a sign of strep throat.  Some children also have a tummy ache, headache, or rash with this illness. Your doctor can listen to the symptoms that your child has and do a test to see if strep throat is the culprit.  Antibiotics should always be given in a case of strep throat to avoid other problems down the road.

Pink Eye

Infections that cause the white part of your child’s eye to become pink can be caused by viruses or bacteria.  Many doctors do prescribe antibiotics to help the child be able to return to school or daycare after 24 hours of giving antibiotics.

The most important thing to remember is if you are ever in doubt, give your local pediatrician’s office a call and talk about the symptoms with a nurse or doctor.  They will be happy to answer your questions and give you guidance about the best way to treat your child’s current symptoms.

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