The Kid's Doctor

By Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Sure, coughs and colds are nasty, but antibiotics are not the answer

The prescribing of antibiotics is highest for young children. But, antibiotics need to be used appropriately in order to ensure that they're effective, as well as to prevent antibiotic resistance. The whole country is just entering the "cough and cold season" and most of these illnesses are caused by viruses. Antibiotics can only cure bacterial - not viral - illnesses.

Taking an antibiotic for a viral illness will NOT cure a child's cough and cold, nor will it help the child feel better any faster. It also will NOT keep others from catching a child's viral illness. These maladies include colds, influenza (flu), RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), most sore throats (unless strep) and most sinus infections. Not all ear infections may need an antibiotic to resolve, especially in children over the age of 2 to 3 years.

Although many people "believe" that green mucus indicates a bacterial infection, as the body's immune system works to fight off a viral upper respiratory infection, mucus can change color. It's quite common for the color to change from clear to yellow to green before the viral infection resolves. This doesn't mean that the patient - whether a child or an adult - needs an antibiotic.

Lastly, while antibiotics may be life-saving, there are potential complications, including tummy aches, diarrhea and serious allergic reactions. You want to only take antibiotics when they're really needed.

For more tips on how to help when your child has a viral illness, check out this CDC site:

( Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at