This often happens to me and, I’m sure, my fellow physicians at Cook Children’s. A child comes to see me with a cold and at the end of the visit, a parent or grandparent will say, “Aren’t you going to prescribe an antibiotic?”

I explain that there’s really not a cure for a common cold and then I’ll explain why I’m not giving the child an antibiotic and why no one else should either. 

I understand this mindset. You come to the doctor and you want to be treated. Parents often want an antibiotic. That’s why they are there to see me. They can’t afford to take time off when their child is running a fever and sick. They think the antibiotic will make the illness go away faster.

But if the cold is viral, it’s simply going to run its course. The antibiotics will not have any impact on the cold at all. With something like a cold, you just have to wait it out. 

It’s not that I’m against antibiotics. Tarrant County has had more pertussis, or whooping cough cases, this year than we’ve had in 50 years. Pertussis starts with cold-like symptoms, just kind of a mild cough, and after 2 weeks the cough gets much worse. In those cases, not only the patient, but the entire family, will need antibiotics, but once the patient has been infected, expect him or her to have a prolonged cough.

Other times antibiotics may be necessary with illnesses including:

  •  Sinusitis or secondary bacterial infections, related to a cold.
  • Certain skin conditions caused by bacterial infections, such as infantigo
  • Strep throat
  • A severe ear infection

I really do try very hard to limit my prescriptions of antibiotics for bacterial infections. If your child has an ear infection and it’s red and bulging, as a parent I would want antibiotics to help ease my child’s suffering.

However, others aren’t as careful with their prescriptions, and this can cause the medication to not be effective or even useless when a child actually needs antibiotics. The infectious organisms adapt to the antibiotics, leaving the patient immune to the antibiotic.

Antibiotics have played a vital role in treating patients with infectious disease for 70 years. When prescribed the right way, antibiotics can prevent illness and even death. But when antibiotics are prescribed carelessly, they lose their effect.

We frequently see patients who have been prescribed antibiotics at the doc-in-the-box type clinics. It sometimes seems to me that they have a mandate that everyone must walk out with a prescription. They often prescribe an antibiotic, steroid or prescription cough medicine regardless if the patient needs it or not. None of that stuff works for a cold. In fact, studies have been done that say it makes your child worse. The antihistamine thickens the secretion, so you can’t get the yucky stuff out. That’s how you get better, by getting the mucus out and resting. When we’re sick, especially children, we need lots of rest.

My advice is to see your Cook Children’s pediatrician. Most of us are open on weekends. Other options include a Cook Children’s Urgent Care Center or Neighborhood Clinic. If a doctor prescribes an antibiotic, it’s Ok to ask if it’s the right thing to do. If the doctor says it’s bacterial or to stop an infection, then proceed.

There’s no magic cure for the common cold. And unfortunately, too many prescriptions of antibiotics are zapping the magic out of what was once a miracle drug.

Audrey Rogers, M.D.,  is located at 3200 Riverfront Drive, Ste. 103, Fort Worth, TX 76107. To make an appointment with her or one of her partners, call 817-336-3800. Like her on Facebook.

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