Why parents shouldn't be so quick to demand antibiotics for their sick child.

When their child is sick, it’s natural parents will want to do everything they can to help them get better, faster.

But when it comes to sore throats, ear aches, coughs and colds, recent research shows parents’ expectations of treatment are out of line with what most doctors recommend.

A survey of more than 1000 parents released by not-for-profit NPS MedicineWise, shows that almost a third of parents will go to their GP with the aim of getting antibiotics to treat their children’s flu-like symptoms. More than half of parents expect a course of antibiotics will be prescribed if their child has an earache.

So what’s wrong with asking for antibiotics to treat a sick child?

NPS MedicineWise Medical Adviser Dr Andrew Boyden said what most parents don’t realise is that while some ear infections require antibiotics, most will clear up on their own. Meanwhile, many other symptoms are not caused by bacterial infections and therefore can’t be treated by antibotics at all.

“When a child is sick, it’s a worrying time for parents, but it’s important to remember that antibiotics are not the answer to all infections,” he said.

“A typically healthy child’s immune system is powerful and will clear up most common infections on its own. What the child will need in most cases is time and rest to recover, with over-the-counter pain relief medications if required.

“Taking antibiotics when they aren’t needed increases the likelihood of resistance developing, leading to antibiotics being less effective.


Listen: Mia says yes, Holly says no and Jessie does it all the time… (Post continues.)

This means if the child contracted a serious bacterial infection in the future, the antibiotics might not work for them, which could be life-threatening, Dr Boyden explained.

Dr Dasha Fielder of Sapphire Family Medical Practice in Bondi Junction told Mamamia that most illnesses do not require antibiotics.

“Antibiotics are really only required very, very rarely,” Dr Fielder told Mamamia.

“Ninety-nine per cent of infections that people are calling ‘the flu’ or ‘a cold’ or ‘a chest infection’, are actually viral, which antibiotics have no place in treatment for.”

The research also pointed to a disconnect between parents expectations of how long symptoms will last and how long they actually do.

So while parents thought their child’s cold should last about six days, studies show that only half of all children are completely recovered after 10 days. 

Dr Fielder added that a viral infection – which antibiotics cannot treat – will normally last one to two weeks.

This isn’t to say concerned parents shouldn’t be seeking medical advice for their unwell children,  Dr Boyden clarified. It is just important to realise doctors aren’t avoiding prescribing antibiotics because they’re cruel or misguided – but because they want to make sure the community stays healthy.