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As winter sets in, our kids pick up germs and fall ill. When we take them to the doctor, we’ll often walk away with a prescription for antibiotics. But the use of antibiotics for kids comes with short-term and long-term effects.
The immune system and the digestive system suffer devastating effects after just one course of antibiotics. Kids are even more vulnerable to these effects, as their gut and immune system are still developing. The good news is that we can rebuild their immune and gut health after using antibiotics.
Watch the video below or keep reading to learn about the impacts of antibiotics for kids, plus what you can do to help them bounce back.
The negative impact of too many antibiotics for kids
There is no doubt that antibiotics save lives. In the 1900s, the top 3 killers were infectious diseases. Nowadays, it is relatively rare for a child to die from common infectious diseases.
The introduction of antibiotics has had both positive and negative effects on children’s health. One of the negative effects is that our kids are more likely to experience chronic conditions including asthma, eczema and allergies.
We also know that antibiotics are significantly overused. There are 30 million scripts for antibiotics written in Australia every year. Almost half of Aussies are given at least one course of antibiotics per year! This contributes to antibiotic resistance, which is described as one of the greatest threats to public health in Australia.
There are also many cases where antibiotics are not warranted. Scripts are written for infections that are viral, or not clearly a bacterial infection. For example, the majority of ear infections are viral in nature, but many doctors still write a script for antibiotics.
Antibiotics are commonly used throughout pregnancy, birth and early childhood. Unfortunately, even one course of antibiotics for kids and babies can be devastating for their immune system. Nearly every child we see with immune issues or recurrent infections have had either a heavy use of antibiotics overall or exposure to antibiotics when very young.
The antibiotic cycle
To illustrate what antibiotics can do to the body, let’s look at what we call the antibiotic cycle. This is a common scenario with the kids that we see in the clinic.
- A child gets an infection. They go to the doctor, who gives them a script for antibiotics.
- Assuming the infection is bacterial, the antibiotics (hopefully!) clear the infection up
- As the antibiotics kill off the bad bacteria, they also wipe out beneficial bacteria
- The antibiotics also impair immune function. They do this by reducing a process called phagocytosis – one of the first lines of defence against infection. This slows down the immune system as the antibiotics are doing the job on its behalf.
- The loss of good bacteria and impaired immune functions lower the immune defences
- Because of the reduced defences, the child gets another infection
- The cycle continues
As you can see, using antibiotics for kids (and adults!) can be a vicious cycle. That’s why reaching for the antibiotics every time doesn’t protect our kids from illness – it makes the situation worse.
How to break the antibiotic cycle
Is your child stuck on the antibiotic cycle? There are ways that we can break the cycle and help their immune system recover.
Make sure antibiotic use is necessary
The first step is to make sure our kids only take antibiotics when needed.
We know they don’t work for viral infections like a cold or the flu. Even mild bacterial infections are best managed with plenty of rest and immune support. Minor illnesses such as coughs, colds, sore throats and ear infections rarely need treatment.
You don’t need to go straight to the doctor every time your child gets sick. Whenever possible, give their system a little time to fight the germs off first. Remember – kids bounce back quickly from illness!
Restore the good bacteria
Many of the side effects caused by antibiotics are because of the effect on the gut. Along with the bad bugs, we also wipe out the good bugs.
Our gut is an eco-system of bacteria, viruses, fungi and more. A healthy gut has a balance of these microbes. But when we wipe out the good bugs, it leads to an overgrowth of unhealthy bugs. This causes symptoms such as thrush and diarrhoea.
To counteract the effects of antibiotics, we want to restore the balance in the gut. The easiest way to do that is with probiotics. This includes supplements as well as fermented foods.
When it comes to a supplement, you want a high-quality option with multiple strains. For more about probiotic options, check out this comparison.
Should they take probiotics during or after a course? It depends on how long the course is. When you take them together, some of the probiotic does go to waste because the antibiotics wipe most of them out.
If they are taking just one course, you can wait until they finish it up. Once it’s completed, you can put them on a good dose of probiotics for up to 12 weeks.
However, if they are taking antibiotics for a long time, you can add probiotics in. Some good gut bugs are better than none!
Power the immune cells
Now you know that antibiotic use can reduce the function of essential immune cells. That’s why we want to make sure that the next time our kids come across a germ, their immune cells are ready to act.
There are a variety of nutrients and herbs that can support our immune cells. For example, vitamin C and zinc help power up our white blood cells.
Dosages of these nutrients and herbs will depend on your child’s age and needs. For personalised advice, you can book an express consult with one of our naturopaths here.
What about recurrent infections?
It is normal for kids to fall sick more regularly than adults. But if your child has recurrent infections such as ear infections, croup or tonsillitis, you want to know why. Unfortunately, doctors are generally not helpful, as modern medicine doesn’t have answers other than antibiotics and other medications.
You need to dig deeper with a health professional to find out why it’s happening and what can be done about it.
Keep your kids healthy this winter!
Get your Free copy of our Foods To Boost Immunity Cheat Sheet here.