When the Best Medication for Kids Is No Medication at All

Many children are prescribed antibiotics when they just don't need them.

ByABC News
February 25, 2010, 3:16 PM

Feb. 25, 2010 — -- If you ask long enough for antibiotics for your children's viral infections, chances are your doctor might just prescribe them -- even though the doctor knows antibiotics won't help your child get better.

Antibiotics don't work for viruses and may put a child at risk for side effects, said Senior Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser, but many times children receive the medication anyway.

Physicians will prescribe antibiotics for viral infections 62 percent of the time when asked by a patient, and only 7 percent of the time when they think a patient does not want it, according to a 1999 study published in Pediatrics.

Common scenarios where antibiotics are unnecessarily prescribed to children include some sinus infections, coughs and some ear infections, doctors told ABCNews.com.

Dr. Thomas Schwenk, chairman of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan medical school, said parents persist with their child's doctor when they're looking to heal their ailing child from the common cold.

"Most of the time when patients ask for antibiotics, it is simply their way of asking for help," said Schwenk.

Asking for the wrong treatment may not be a one-time deal. Many times, the inappropriate use of antibiotics leads patients to ask for antibiotics more often, said Schwenk. If a child suffers from a cold for a week, then receives an antibiotic and gets better in a few days, a parent may attribute their child's recovery to antibiotics, even though the child would have recovered naturally, he said.

More than 142,000 people are rushed to the emergency room each year from adverse reactions to antibiotics, according to a 2008 article in Clinical Infectious Diseases, and an estimated 70,000 of those cases may be a result of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions.

Children are more likely to suffer side effects such as diarrhea and abdominal pain from antibiotics.

In addition, using antibiotics for ear infections may increase the likelihood of getting another ear infection, according to a recent British Medical Journal study.