The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Monday new guidelines for giving children antibiotics for the common cold.

The CDC states that, each year, as many as 10 million children are at risk for complications related to antibiotic prescriptions for upper respiratory infections. The majority of chest infections related to the common cold are viral, and are therefore not helped by antibiotics.

Unnecessary use of antibiotics also fuels antibiotic resistance, which the CDC has placed at the top of its list of major health concerns for the U.S. As bacteria evolve to build defenses against medicine, doctors are left without a means to treat infections that can become fatal.

In addition to making bacteria more resilient, the unnecessary use of antibiotics frequently causes side effects including nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness, and headache.

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The New Guidelines for Kids and Antibiotics

Together with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the CDC offered the three following principles for clinicians when prescribing antibiotics to children:

  1. Determine whether the infection is viral or bacterial, because antibiotics are useless against viruses.
  2. Weigh the benefits of antibiotic use against potential harm.
  3. Implement proper prescribing techniques, including using the right antibiotic at the appropriate dose for the shortest duration needed.

CDC Director Thomas Frieden echoed concerns raised by a 2013 study, which showed that more than two million people acquire antibiotic-resistant infections each year. Annually, 23,000 people die as a result of these infections, which are often contracted at hospitals.

The overuse of antibiotics has made many modern versions of the drugs useless against these “superbugs,” and researchers are scrambling to stay ahead of them.

“Our medicine cabinet is nearly empty of antibiotics to treat some infections,” Frieden said. “If doctors prescribe antibiotics carefully and patients take them as prescribed we can preserve these lifesaving drugs and avoid entering a post-antibiotic era.”

“Many people have the misconception that since antibiotics are commonly used, they are harmless,” Dr. Lauri Hicks, medical director of CDC’s "Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work" program, said. “Taking antibiotics when you have a virus can do more harm than good.”

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So How Do I Treat My Child’s Cold?

Unfortunately, there is no cure-all for upper respiratory infections associated with the common cold. Symptoms should be treated individually, including using ibuprofen for aches and decongestants for a runny nose. However, over-the-counter remedies are not recommended for children under the age of two.

The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends treating a child’s common cold with vapor rub, zinc supplements, saline nasal irrigation, and other methods.

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