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2023 Sep

Q&A About Antibiotics

Antibiotics are an important tool in keeping your child healthy.

Your toddler wakes in the night with ear pain. Subsequently, she is diagnosed with a middle ear infection and prescribed Amoxicillin. You wonder:

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are medications used to treat bacterial infections such as ear infections, strep throat, and urinary tract infections. They are not effective for viral illnesses, like colds or flu. Antibiotics are only effective to treat bacterial illnesses. Dose appropriately by using the measuring device provided with the medication.

Do they taste good?

Most are tolerable and some, like bubble-gum flavored Amoxicillin, are outright yummy. If your child does not enjoy the taste, consider giving something chocolate flavored afterwards. Chocolate milk (if tolerable) or a spoonful of chocolate syrup will cut the taste. In older children, a few M&Ms before and after the medicine will help. (Be aware of choking risks.) Mixing the antibiotic in a cup of juice is not recommended, as forcing an entire bad-tasting cup is more difficult than one small dose. If your child does not finish the entire cup, he is not getting the appropriate dose.

Should I stop the medicine when my child feels better?

No, it is vital that your child completes the entire course of the antibiotic. Stopping prematurely may risk recurrence of the bacteria that caused the initial problem. A partially treated infection is dangerous. Partially treated bacteria may become more resistant to antibiotics, making the medication less effective in the future.

Can I use leftover antibiotics?

This is not recommended. Antibiotics may have expired and will no longer be effective. Also, not all antibiotics work for all illnesses. It is important that illnesses are appropriately diagnosed and treated. In addition, treating with antibiotics before your child is diagnosed may interfere with testing needed to diagnose your child. It can interfere with strep tests, urine tests, and blood cultures. It is not a good idea to use old antibiotics. Also, never share one child’s prescriptive medicine with another child.

Are antibiotics overused?

In the past antibiotics were overprescribed and used inappropriately. Antibiotic use is unnecessary when prescribed inappropriately, such as for viral illnesses (colds or flu). There has been a push to increase awareness among healthcare providers and patients regarding the prudent use of antibiotics to help decrease antibiotic resistance due to overuse. However, when your pediatric healthcare provider prescribes antibiotics, it is quite appropriate to use them. Please follow your pediatric healthcare provider’s instructions. It is vital to only use antibiotics when and as directed by a medical professional.

Must I give the antibiotics?

Your pediatric healthcare provider is a well-trained, licensed medical professional who is experienced at when antibiotics are needed and appropriate. If you are given antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection, you should follow the directions carefully and give the antibiotics appropriately to your child. If you are not comfortable with a certain antibiotic, or a certain treatment, please discuss it with your pediatric healthcare provider. Always follow your pediatric healthcare provider’s directions carefully.

What are common side effects of antibiotics?

Antibiotics have some very common side effects, such as loose stools, abdominal discomfort, nausea, and occasionally vomiting. You can decrease these side effects by giving the antibiotics with food and adding a daily probiotic. Some infants may develop oral thrush or a fungal diaper rash requiring treatment after antibiotic use. If you have concerns, please see your pediatric healthcare provider.

Why are probiotics recommended?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that improve the good bacteria in the gut. They can be found in foods like yogurt or taken as a pill or powder, which can be sprinkled on soft food (like applesauce). They are recommended as a way to maintain gut health while on antibiotics. The antibiotic kills the bad bacteria causing the ear infection, but also kills the good bacteria in your child’s tummy. By giving probiotics, the gut health can be maintained. Always check with your child’s pediatric healthcare provider before giving any supplement or medication (including probiotics).

What abnormal side effects of antibiotics should I watch for?

If your child is having any rare, severe, or abnormal side effects, such as anaphylaxis (severe and life-threatening allergic reaction), bloody stool, or seizures, seek emergency medical care (dial 911). Some rashes may signal an allergic reaction to a medication and require urgent evaluation. Although rare, these side effects may indicate a serious medical problem and deserve immediate emergent evaluation and treatment.

Should I follow up?

Follow your pediatric healthcare provider’s recommendation for follow up. Follow up is an important part of care with a bacterial infection to determine resolution or if further treatment is required.

Take Away

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. Antibiotics save lives. Prudent antibiotic stewardship by healthcare providers and appropriate antibiotic use by the community help to decrease antibiotic resistance and avoid unnecessary side effects. Always follow your pediatric healthcare provider’s instructions carefully when giving your child antibiotics. If you have further questions, reach out to your pediatric healthcare provider.

For more information, visit

Melanie J. Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP

Dr. Melanie J. Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP, is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, and a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner as well as core faculty member at Walden University. Her book, Raising Today’s Baby: Second Edition, is available on


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