Study: Giving Children Antibiotics For A Cough May Do More Harm Than Good

by Vanessa Taylor

With the new developments of modern medicine, sometimes akin to miracles, it can be tempting to want prescriptions for every little cough and cold. For parents especially, it can be hard to watch your kid work through a cough or respiratory infection, but are medications always worth it? According to a new study, giving kids antibiotics for coughs doesn't reduce hospitalizations. And in the long run, it could do more harm than good.

For many, antibiotic resistance poses a legitimate concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines antibiotic resistance as occurring when "bacteria develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them". The CDC goes on to outline that this resistance poses one of the most urgent threats to public health. If bacterias continue to grow resistance, illnesses that were once easy to treat will become more difficult to tackle.

One of the biggest concerns within antibiotic resistance is how over prescription of antibiotics plays a role. As noted by the CDC, antibiotics aren't effective against viral infections, such as: the common cold, flu, most sore throats, bronchitis, and many sinus and ear infections. Using antibiotics to treat these conditions may promote antibiotic resistance, as the CDC noted.

In order to halt the development of resistance, examining how antibiotics are used is important.

A recent study published in the British Journal of General Practice looked into the practice of prescribing children's antibiotics for patients with cough and respiratory symptoms. According to the study's brief, researchers' aims were to "estimate the effect of children’s antibiotic prescribing on adverse outcomes within 30 days of initial consultation."

For the study, researchers worked with 8,320 British children between the ages of 3 months up to 15 years old, according to UPI. These children had come to the doctor with cough or other respiratory infection symptoms from 2011 to 2013, as UPI outlined. As noted in the study's brief, researchers examined whether adverse outcomes occurred within 30 days of seeing the doctor, including hospitalization.

Their findings? Of the 8,320 children, sixty-five (0.8 percent) were hospitalized and 350 (4 percent) revisited their general practitioner due to worsening symptoms, according to a press release for the study.

Most children, according to the British Journal of General Practice, weren't at a risk of hospitalization and, in fact, antibiotics didn't seem to reduce that risk. Researchers noted, "if an antibiotic is considered, a delayed antibiotic prescription may be preferable as it is likely to reduce reconsultation for deterioration."

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Dr. Niamh Redmon, lead author of the study, explained in the press release of the study's findings:

The good news is that most children who present to their GP with acute cough and respiratory infection symptoms are at low risk of hospitalization. We know that GPs, for a variety of reasons, commonly prescribe antibiotics in these cases as a precautionary measure. However, our study shows that antibiotics are unlikely to reduce this already small risk. This means that along with other strategies, there is real potential to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescribing, which is a major contributor to the growing public health threat of antimicrobial resistance.

This research helps back up the movement to stop overprescribing medication. Back in 2016, CBS News reported that doctors were being urged to stop prescribing antibiotics for colds and flus. "It's a real threat today. It's going to be a bigger threat," CBS News reported medical contributor Dr. David Agus as saying. "Every time somebody has a fever, a doctor can give them an antibiotic. We have to stop that."

There are natural cough remedies that parents can try, such as honey tea, ginger, which is also good in tea, and use of steam, as noted by Medical News Today. Parents can consult their children's doctors for specific recommendations beyond antibiotics.

Hopefully, this study will help direct doctors and families alike to find better ways to handle common colds and respiratory infections. In the long run, the running trend of prescriptions with no benefit for the patient will only have bad side-effects in the years to come.