What Experts Want Parents To Know About Inappropriate Antibiotic Prescriptions For Kids

Antibiotics are a wonder for treating bacterial infections — but what if they're being used unnecessarily? A new investigation shows that a huge number of children in the U.S. are being prescribed antibiotics that they don't need, leading to astronomical healthcare costs and increased adverse reactions.

Antibiotics are only needed for treating infections caused by bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even then, not all bacterial infections require antibiotics to heal. Viral infections, like the common cold, flu, and COVID-19, can't be treated with antibiotics. That being said, as many as 28% of antibiotics prescribed in U.S. doctors' offices and emergency rooms are completely unnecessary. This can cause severe side effects and contribute to antibiotic resistance. When antibiotics are overused, the germs causing the infections can eventually defeat the drugs themselves. This is dangerous for those who are at high risk of developing infections, like people receiving chemotherapy or undergoing surgery, as the antibiotics intended to treat their infections no longer work.

The impact of unnecessary antibiotic use

Unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are especially a concern for children. An investigation published in JAMA Network Open analyzed data from 2.8 million children between 2016 and 2018. Researchers found that $74 million in non–guideline-recommended antibiotics were given to kids in the U.S. outside of a hospital setting (via Healthline). Not only was this associated with higher healthcare costs within the 30 days after receiving treatment, but it was also associated with an increased risk of avoidable adverse drug events, including serious infection and severe allergic reaction. The highest expenditures attributed to this unnecessary antibiotic use were for chronic middle ear infection, sore throat (not caused by strep), and viral upper respiratory infection.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a goal of decreasing inappropriate antibiotic usage, giving guidance to physicians who prescribe the drugs (via Healthline). Experts also recommend that parents educate themselves on when antibiotics are necessary. They suggest refraining from asking your child's doctor for antibiotics, asking questions, getting curious, and not being afraid to ask for a second opinion if you think your child's doctor is inappropriately prescribing antibiotics.