The Coming ‘Antibiotic Apocalypse’ Is Why Parents Need To Trust Their Pediatricians

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kids medicineI can completely admit that when it comes to health issues, I’m something of a worrier. Those runny noses and hacking coughs, I stress so much that they’re going to morph into sinus infections and pneumonia. Personally, I would rather take a trip to the doctor so that he can assuage my fears and calm my conscious, letting me know to take a deep breath and ride out whatever bug is plaguing my daughter.

The problem, of course, with visiting the doctor so often is that most parents expect to leave with a cure in hand. Or a prescription for a cure. And most doctors, afraid of not covering all the bases, missing a minor detail, getting sued, or simply angering their patient, prescribe those “cures” in the form of antibiotics. Even when the antibiotics are unnecessary and ineffective.

The over-prescription and use of antibiotics are why some people are warning about the “Antibiotic Apocalypse.” The Atlantic has a piece outlining all the reasons why your kids don’t need so much amoxicillin, and just what kind of harm you’re doing to world at large when you get overboard with the meds.

Every year, more and more children with viral illnesses are given unnecessary antibiotics, and as a result, the bacteria floating around in our bodies get exposed to those antibiotics and evolve, gaining resistance to even our most powerful antibiotics. Reports of these drug resistant bacteria are increasingly alarming.

Fast forward a few years and many fear there will be no life preservers left to toss to our kids, at which point we could be back where we were 100 years ago, watching people die from what are currently nuisance illnesses easily cured with a pill.

It’s a scary idea. It’s one we would all like to avoid. But I’m not sure if we’ll be able to without a concerted effort from both parents and doctors to get more realistic about the minor illnesses children often face. Parents have to trust that their doctors know when real medicine is needed. And doctors need to stop sugar-coating things to placate anxious parents.

I have to admit that I’m lucky. The family doctor that treats my daughter and me now is the same doctor that delivered me 27 years ago. We have an extremely trusting relationships and I know that he won’t prescribe something in case we really need it.

But when my daughter was first born, we went to a pediatrician briefly. That doctor made me feel incompetent and insecure. We didn’t have a great relationship. And I’m pretty sure that I received more than a couple, “Here’s a prescription, get out of my hair,” medications before we finally left for our GP.

Sure, calling the over-prescribing of antibiotics an “apocalypse” might be a scare tactic. But no matter what we label it, it’s a serious problem. And it’s going to take parents and doctors working together to fix it. So find a physician you trust and then listen when they say, “Sorry, I think this is viral and we’ll just have to wait it out.”

(Photo: Nagy-Bagoly Arpad/Shutterstock)


  1. Mary

    March 6, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    Virus= no antibiotics. Bacterial infection=antibiotics. I’m so grateful by pediatrician knows this.

  2. chickadee

    March 6, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    There is additionally the issue of parents not completing the full course of antibiotics once the child feels better, which also contributes to the immunity issue. I am all in favor if doctors being honest with clients about the possible side effects of antibiotic abuse.

    • LindsayCross

      March 6, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      That’s a really fantastic point as well!!

    • Ordinaryperson

      March 6, 2013 at 2:20 pm

      Ah! I never finish my prescriptions if I feel better!! I thought I was part of the solution but I’m really part of the problem!!!

  3. Diana

    March 6, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    You mean the way we trusted them when they needlessly prescribed antibiotics for years instead of behaving like professionals?

    • D

      March 6, 2013 at 3:06 pm

      It is a two way street. Doctors prescribed antibiotics because parents would come in demanding that they be given something to treat their child, even when the doctor said it was unnecessary. It has flourished into (some) doctors assuming all parents are going to bite their heads off if they leave the doctors’ offices without a prescription. Is it irresponsible for the doctors to be prescribing antibiotics when they know that the kid doesn’t need them? Of course. Is it equally irresponsible for parents to berate their doctor when they don’t get a prescription like they are expecting? Yep. I think the article sums it up nicely. Doctors need to stop prescribing them when they aren’t needed, and parents need to trust that the doctor knows what he or she is talking about, or at the very least as questions. It can’t hurt to say, “hey, is my kid infected with bacteria or a virus?”

    • shel

      March 6, 2013 at 3:15 pm

      As a pediatrician… I’m a big fan of this article, and you’re completely right about some parents being so demanding. In my practice, we are very clear about not using antibiotics when they aren’t warrented… which this fall I’m sure cost me a patient since the parents were upset that I wouldn’t prescribe an antibiotic for what was clearly a viral infection… of course they just went to the urgent care later who happily gave them an unneeded antibiotic 🙁

    • Diana

      March 6, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      Have you ever been tempted to placebo them? ” Take 2 tick tacks and call me in the morning.”

    • shel

      March 6, 2013 at 3:40 pm

      I wish 🙂

    • LindsayCross

      March 6, 2013 at 3:58 pm

      I actually had an urgent care NP brush off my issue and tell me that since I’d recently had an antibiotic for an ear infection, I should hold off of taking one for my chest congestion, barking, fever, etc. (which she wouldn’t call pneumonia.) It got so horrible within the next couple of days that I went back to my normal doctor, who had been on vacation. He was furious. He took x-rays that clearly showed a really serious case of pneumonia.

      Obviously, I think over-prescribing is a WAY bigger problem than under-prescribing. But my doctor told me that lots of people come back to him if they don’t like what the walk-in clinic said, or vice versa. And up until that point, I had NEVER considered seeking out treatment for a different doctor because I didn’t like what the first said.

    • shel

      March 6, 2013 at 4:55 pm

      I certainly am not offended by people wanting a second opinion ( I even told them that when they where upset with my care plan)… and of course everyone can make mistakes… but this case was particularly amusing since the history and exam were clearly viral… and the reason they wanted antibiotics was a bit ridiculous 😛
      I was almost more bothered by the urgent care handing over the antibiotics and not even documenting a good reason why…

    • AmyM

      March 6, 2013 at 11:44 pm

      It is hard though. I’m a health care professional and am certainly able to do the wait and watch routine, but as a parent I can also psych myself out a bit with second guessing. One of the hardest things for all of us overly busy people to do is keep our kids home. There’s a virus going around locally that seems to drag on for people with fever and headache. My youngest got it, I kept him home and fairly still over a weekend and we were done with it. We’ve lost our home nursing skills over the last 75 or so years and we need to re-educate people.

    • Eileen

      March 6, 2013 at 3:21 pm

      Frankly, adults can be the same. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “The doctor wasn’t sure what it was, but I asked for an antibiotic, just to be safe.”

    • gangle

      March 6, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      I totally agree. At work a while ago a really nasty virus did the rounds. Just about everyone went to the docs for antibiotics and felt terrible for two – three weeks. I got the same thing. Same symptoms (it was the flu). I stayed away from the docs, as I figured the doctor, the nurses, receptionist and other patients didn’t want it either. I took asprin. I drank hot lemony drinks. I took vitamin c and garlic pills. I went to bed early. I felt like crap for two and a half weeks. Then I got better. Just like everyone else, minus the antibiotics.

    • Diana

      March 6, 2013 at 3:36 pm

      Oh I agree with you, But in the end these are prescription drugs, people can’t get them without a docs say so. if doctors stood up for themselves and educated their patients on the matter the problem wold be less severe than it is. However it can’t be laid entirely at their door. The worst culprit is still excessive antibiotic use in farming, the strongest strain of MRSA is thought to have its genesis in a belgian pig farm.

  4. Rebecca

    March 6, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    I give everything the two week rule.after two weeks most pains and illnesses will clear themselves up, and if they don’t you should probably see your doctor.obviously if my kids are s seriously ill or hurt i take them in, but my kids are 4+5, and we’ve done antibiotics maybe 4 times total.i always put the Dr at ease by saying,i don’t want them to take anything they don’t need, but i just wanted to get this checked mom is an antibiotic freak.she always acts offended if her Dr doesn’t give her pills or if i don’t demand antibiotics for my mil is the same way.its becoming a generational thing.

    • Cliff

      March 6, 2013 at 4:37 pm

      I use your method also and haven’t needed an antibiotic in 17 years.

  5. SusannahJoy

    March 6, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Everytime I see articles like this I think “well, duh, haven’t we all known this for years?” and then I read the comments, and realize that actually… Many people don’t. I don’t blame them for that; it’s so common to be taking a million medications that a lot of people don’t really pay attention anymore, but I’m very careful about what I put into my body and actually read the 2 or 3 page sheet that you can get with every prescription. And yeah, I have to second what chicakdee said- Finish the prescription! Take every pill, otherwise you risk just killing the weak bacteria, leaving all the harder to kill stuff to flourish. That’s how you end up going from a simple strep infection to having to be hospitalized. It’s not super complicated, but clearly we need to be spreading the information better, otherwise how can we expect anyone to know?

  6. Amelie

    March 6, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    I know that you guys don’t have a copy editor due to your (Mommyish’s) repeated, egregious grammar errors. The grammar checker I listed below is free and you guys really, really, really, REALLY need to start using it. I know this sounds bitchy, and maybe it is, but I truly don’t mean it that way. It’s just something that I think drags down the tone here, and is something that could be corrected so easily. Please at least think about it.

    • Simone

      March 7, 2013 at 6:17 am

      Which of the four errors sent you over the edge? For me it was the use of the word ‘conscious’ instead of ‘conscience’. Those two words are completely different. If the writer has learned English as a second language I excuse her, but if it’s her birth language, I’m embarrassed for her.

    • Carinn Jade

      March 7, 2013 at 2:01 pm

      Have you ever noticed how much content is produced by this site and how many writers there are? Each one of them writes an extraordinary amount of content (I know from experience) and yet you focus on the small mistakes? If it was a simple fix, they would do it, but you look at one post and think you know how things work behind the scenes. Let me assure you, everyone on the Mommyish staff works their asses off to get personal and news stories out that mothers want to read. For that, I am grateful.

    • once upon a time

      March 7, 2013 at 6:03 pm

      It’s not just one post. It’s not small mistakes. It’s many posts and huge mistakes. Using conscious instead of conscience is a huge mistake. I’ve seen typos in headlines. I’ve seen toe curling turn of phrases like, ‘My husband and I’s bed’. And there is a simple fix. Amelie has provided it for you. You could say thank you.

      You produce a publication. You call yourselves writers. Fifty per cent of the job is proof reading. It’s extremely unprofessional to put out a professional blog riddled with mistakes, and it’s even more unprofessional to get all snarky bitch when someone calls you out on it.

      I’m an editor for an online publication. You wanna talk about working your arse off? My site has 50 – 100 reviews going live every day and we don’t let these sorts of mistakes through. Have a think about what sort of image you want to send, both with your copy and your response to criticism.

  7. Kat

    March 7, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    I’m so glad my doctor is a “wait and see” type. She will absolutely prescribe antibiotics, if they’re necessary (like when I went in recently for a massively infected ingrown toenail), but won’t if they’re not. Now, because she knows me and what kind of parent I am, she’ll sometimes write the Rx with orders not to fill it unless I/my child isn’t better in X days. My son is almost 4 1/2 and has been on antibiotics a whopping 2 times.

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