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How Do Antibiotics Work?

Antibacterials aren’t the answer for every infection your child gets. In fact, there are 2 major types of germs that cause most infections, viruses and bacteria, and antibacterials are useful only against bacteria.

For children, antibiotics are available in a number of forms, including tablets, capsules, liquids, and chewables. Some antibiotics come as ointments and others come as drops (eg, for ear infections).When your pediatrician prescribes an antibiotic, your pediatrician will choose the best one for the specific germ that is making your child sick.

The Activity of Antibacterials

Antibacterials fight infectious bacteria in the body. They attack the disease process by destroying the structure of the bacteria or their ability to divide or reproduce. Scientists often categorize antibacterials in the following way:

Some antibacterials are called broad spectrum and can fight many types of germs in the body, while others are more specific. If your pediatrician uses blood, urine, or other tests that identify the specific bacteria causing your child’s infection, your pediatrician can prescribe an antibacterial that can target those germs.

Remember, if your child has a cold, antibiotics aren’t the answer. It’s sometimes difficult for parents to determine if their child’s illness is caused by viruses or bacteria. For this reason, never try to diagnose and treat your youngster’s illness yourself. Contact or visit your pediatrician’s office.  


Side Effects of Antibiotics

As powerful and useful as antibiotics can be, they may produce side effects in some people. In children, they can cause stomach discomfort, loose stools, or nausea. Some youngsters have an allergic reaction to penicillin and other antibiotics, producing symptoms such as skin rashes or breathing difficulties. If these allergic symptoms become severe, causing labored breathing, difficulty swallowing because of a tight throat, or wheezing, call your pediatrician and go to the emergency department right away.  

Are Antibiotics Ever Used to Prevent Illnesses?

While antimicrobial drugs are mostly used to treat infections that your infant or child may develop, they are sometimes prescribed to prevent an illness from ever occurring. For example, children who have frequent urinary tract infections are sometimes given antibacterials to reduce the likelihood that they’ll recur. Medicines can kill the bacteria before they have a chance to cause an infection.

Here are other circumstances in which prophylactic (preventive) antibacterial drugs may be prescribed for children.

If your pediatrician believes that your child can benefit from taking medicines as a preventive measure, your pediatrician will choose them carefully and prescribe them for the shortest possible period. This strategy will reduce the chances that use of these drugs will contribute to the problem of antimicrobial resistance.

Source: Immunizations & Infectious Diseases: An Informed Parent's Guide (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)

The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

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