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Q: I just returned from the doctor and was sure he would give my five-year-old daughter an antibiotic for her cold. He told me they were not necessary for all types of infections. What do you think?
A: Although you may not be happy with my answer, I agree with your doctor that antibiotics are not necessary for all infections. There are medications available for many symptoms and diseases, but I think that we should always be cautious, use medicines appropriately, keep aware of their side effects, and monitor their use closely.
Antibiotics are one of the greatest advances in medicine during this past century. However, it is important that they are used correctly or more harm than good may result. Parents and doctors alike should be mindful of overusing antibiotics in kids with various infections, such as ear infections or colds. If antibiotics are taken when they are not needed, bacteria germs may develop resistance. This means an antibiotic may not work well when the doctor really wants to use it to treat a specific infection. Of course, there are also potential side effects associated with them.
Educating parents and doctors alike should help to reduce overuse. Both need to understand the role of antibiotics in the treatment of infectious diseases. Parents should always use an antibiotic as prescribed by the doctor. Do not keep it in the medicine cabinet after the infection is treated and do not ever self-medicate your child or yourself. Good judgment, a clear understanding of science, and good doctor-patient communication are critical in choosing when and how to use an antibiotic.
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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.