Does My Child Need Antibiotics?

mother with sick child

As we head into the winter months and the peak of cold and flu season, it’s important to remember that antibiotics are not a cure-all. And more importantly, antibiotics do more harm than good when overused or used incorrectly.

Remember: Your child only needs antibiotics if their physician, P.A. or N.P., prescribes them. Never give a child old or leftover antibiotics from a separate prescription. 

Antibiotics Are Almost Always a Last Resort

The large majority of colds and cases of flu that cycle through the pediatric population are banished by the immune system without the need for antibiotics or a trip to the pediatrician. Instead, most require rest, hydration, nourishment, and TLC, all of which support the body’s natural immune system function. So even if a common cold is associated with thick yellow or green mucous and fatigue, odds are it’s a virus and not a bacterial infection requiring medication.

When in doubt, contact your pediatrician or healthcare provider’s 24-hour nurse line, where you can report the child’s symptoms, answer questions, and get expert recommendations on whether or not to stay home or schedule an appointment.

Your child probably needs antibiotics if…

Now’s the time to calendar the next vaccine clinic to ensure your child is up to date on vaccines – including this year’s flu shots and relevant Covid boosters. In the meantime, here are cases where your child probably needs antibiotics.


1. They have strep throat or an aggressive throat infection.


A sore throat and fever are common flu symptoms, including viral infections that can’t be treated by antibiotics at all. However, strep throat and other aggressive bacterial infections may require antibiotics. 

Contact your physician if your child has a fever that persists for 72 hours or more, accompanied by a sore throat. Bacterial throat infections may cause your child to have bad breath, and you may also notice white pus spots on the tonsils – a sure sign they’re fighting an infection. We’ll perform a strep culture, which provides rapid results. If we determine it’s a bacterial infection, antibiotics have a notable impact within 24 to 48 hours.

2. A sinus infection that lasts ten days or more


Sinus infections are painful and may also be accompanied by fever and other flu-like symptoms – including excessive mucous discharge that is green or yellowish. In addition, children may complain of headaches or sore teeth, and their faces may be tender to the touch around the sinus cavities.

Most sinus infections clear up within a full week or two. However, infections that last more than ten days or that create increasing discomfort may require antibiotics. A second situation where antibiotics may be prescribed is when a sinus infection seems to go away but comes back within a few days or a week. This means the body cannot completely kick the bacteria and could need an antibiotic boost.

3. A chest cough that gets worse instead of better


Bacterial infections frequently invade the lungs (bronchitis), causing a thick and persistent cough. Children may also have a fever, headaches, chills, and difficulty breathing. Rest, lots of fluids, and using a clean humidifier (as well as nice long steamy showers and baths) can go a long way to treating chest colds or bronchial infections on their own.

RememberMost common colds are caused by viruses and never treated by antibiotics, despite their long-lasting tendencies.

4. Severe ear infections


Antibiotics used to be the go-to treatment for ear infections. But, then, cautious resistance to over-prescribe and the realization that most ear infections resolve within a week or two changed the way we do things.

In most cases, without significant pain/discomfort or prolonged fever, we recommend remedies that soothe and support the infected ear while taking a watch-and-wait approach. However, if the infection is severe or persists longer than normal, we’ll prescribe antibiotic drops or oral medications.

5. Bacterial eye infections


Eye infections are highly contagious, but many are caused by viruses rather than bacteria. Never use a leftover prescriptive eye drop to treat a current eye infection. You could make the infection worse. Like ear infections, most eye infections clear up on their own via regular eye flushing, rest, and persistent hand hygiene. 

However, after establishing whether it’s a bacterial or viral infection, a physician may prescribe drops to prevent the spread to other family members and keep kids and parents in school and work.

Worried Your Child May Need Antibiotics?

Just because we’re careful and prevent over-prescribing antibiotics doesn’t mean we don’t want to hear from you. Always feel free to contact Pediatric Associates of the Northwest if you think your child isn’t getting better or has a bacterial infection requiring antibiotics. We’ll get you in ASAP or schedule a Virtual TeleHealth Visit to get to the root cause and determine whether antibiotics are the solution.

In the meantime, eat well, exercise often, and get a good night’s sleep – all of which are the proactive ways to stay healthy and give your immune system the foundation required to stop bacterial and viral invaders in their tracks.

Picture of Vamtam

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit dolor

A group of young girls participate in a ballet class.

Healthy Body Talk

With eating disorders on the rise for both girls and boys and the emphasis put on “body image” from peers and society at large, we owe it to our children to cultivate core family values about what it means to have a “healthy body.”

Read More »