4 Questions To Ask Before Starting Antibiotics

Disclaimer: I am a public health professional, not a medical doctor or nutrition expert, so please use your own judgment when making decisions about your health.

By the time most children turn 18, they will have taken antibiotics a whopping 10-20 times.

One of the most discussed public health topics today is the over-prescription of antibiotics for upper respiratory infections. People often believe antibiotics to be curative, or at least benign; however, when incorrectly prescribed, antibiotics hurt more than they help.

Our protective gut flora is fragile, and when the good bacteria are knocked out, research shows it can take aggressive steps, possibly over an entire lifetime, to return gut flora to pre-antibiotic levels. The hygiene hypothesis even connects antibiotics and better hygiene to obesity and depression, resulting from a lack of H. pylori in our guts.

Last year, our pediatrician prescribed antibiotics to our young girls for complications from upper respiratory infections. As he wrote the script, we shared looks of surprise; his shock came from the lack of previous antibiotics in their medical charts, whereas mine came from a genuine disappointment that they needed antibiotics at all.

For good reasons, I am protective of my family taking antibiotics. If we do take antibiotics, we know we’re in for a long battle against the side effects that come from eliminating the good bacteria in our digestive system. And if the illness turns out not to have been bacterial, we will have added to soaring antibiotic resistance.

Because of the wave of bacterial pneumonia hitting our schools at the time, I reluctantly went ahead with medical treatment. I had been hospitalized for pneumonia as a child, and I know it's not an illness that can be overcome by toughing it out. We had also come to trust our pediatrician's opinion, and we made sure to ask questions to help us make an informed decision for our family.

When antibiotics are the order of the day, verify the need by asking the following questions:

  • Are antibiotics necessary or is there an alternative course of treatment we can try first?
  • Is there a test or specific diagnosis to determine whether the infection is bacterial?
  • Have we waited the recommended amount of time prior to starting antibiotics? (The period is generally two to three weeks)
  • Can I get a second opinion?

If, after asking these questions, you determine that you do in fact require antibiotics, firmly request a short course. Become educated about how to build up good gut bacteria and heal skin conditions post-antibiotics. And take heart. When you seek information, you're already on a good path to making informed decisions about your family’s health care.

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