When your child has an infection, it’s natural to wonder if they might need an antibiotic. But antibiotics only work for bacterial infections. If your child’s infection is caused by a virus, antibiotics won’t help — and they might do some harm. That’s because antibiotics may have some side effects (like nausea, diarrhea, upset stomach, and vomiting) — and antibiotic overuse contributes to antibiotic resistance.
Here’s the lowdown on which common childhood illnesses typically require an antibiotic — and which don’t.
Illnesses that do require antibiotic treatment
These common childhood illnesses are caused by bacteria and typically require antibiotic treatment:
- Strep throat.
- Urinary tract infections.
- Whooping cough.
Illnesses that don’t require antibiotic treatment
These common childhood illnesses are typically caused by viruses and should not be treated with antibiotics:
- Most sore throats. (The main exception is strep throat, which is caused by the Streptococcus bacteria)
- Colds and runny noses. (This is true even if your child has thick, yellow, or green mucus)
- Bronchitis (also known as a “chest cold”)
Illnesses that may require an antibiotic
When it comes to ear infections and sinus infections, whether or not your child needs an antibiotic depends on a number of factors. That’s because these infections are often — but not always — caused by viruses. Even if the infection is bacterial, it still might resolve quickly. That’s why your pediatrician will examine your child and consider their symptoms and length of illness before deciding if an antibiotic is necessary.