Antibiotics or home remedies?

For parents, it can be hard to tell whether your child’s illness requires antibiotics or if there are other ways to effectively treat their symptoms. In order to prevent over-use of these drugs, it’s important to know which situations can use home remedies instead of antibiotics.

“If your child has an ear infection, consider using over-the-counter pain relievers in place of antibiotics,” says Steven Perkins, D.O., family physician at Mayo Clinic Health System - Franciscan Healthcare in Waukon. Children’s ear infections usually improve within two to three days, especially for kids who are two years or older. If your child’s health does not improve within a few days, it would be wise to take them in to see their provider.

Dr. Perkins recommends antibiotics for an ear infection in the following instances: if your child is six months or younger, if your child is between six months and two years old and has moderate to severe pain, and children two years or older with severe symptoms.

“Do not use antibiotics to treat your child’s cold, flu, and most other respiratory infections,” says Dr. Perkins. Most respiratory infections are caused by viruses and antibiotics do not treat viruses. Antibiotics are made for fighting bacteria.

Instead, Dr. Perkins suggests offering your child warm liquids such as tea or soup. These can have a soothing effect and loosen mucus. Over-the-counter saline nasal drops or saline spray can also help loosen nasal mucus. Try running a cool-mist humidifier in the child’s room or steam from a hot shower for additional relief.

Strep throat is caused by bacteria. However, most children with the symptoms of strep throat actually have a virus, explains Dr. Perkins. “You should ask for a strep throat test before turning to antibiotics to cure your child’s symptoms,” he says. Ice cream, frozen fruit pops or cold beverages may help to soothe a sore throat. Older children can try gargling salt water or sucking on throat lozenges. Always encourage your child to get enough rest so their bodies have a chance to recover.

Consider getting antibiotics for your child when a cough persists for 14 days or more. Antibiotics are also necessary if a doctor diagnoses your child with a bacterial infection, such as strep throat.

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