The Offending Statement
"My child was showing signs of an infection, so I just gave him the leftover pills that were prescribed to me the last time I had an infection. They’re all the same, right?"
Yikes! This is right up there with the worst of 'em. Please don’t practice such bad medical behavior—and especially not with your children!
Why We Don’t Want to Hear It
Giving your child prescription medicine from a past illness (yours or hers) can be damaging for many reasons.
In case you don’t already know it, the overuse of antibiotics is bad for you, your child, and society in general. Mistreatment produces “smart” bacteria, which can make the next infection much harder to eradicate.
Also, how much do you know about the medication you just administered? Did you use the right medicine? Did you give the correct dose for age and weight? Is the medication outdated? (Some pills have no more than a two-week shelf life.) Do you know that some medicines are not used in children of varying ages due to side effects? For example, medicines such as Doxycycline are not given to kids under eight years old because they can adversely and permanently affect growing bones and permanently discolor teeth.
Well, these are things your pediatrician knows. That’s why she went to medical school.
In my experience as a physician I have (more than once) received a call like this: “My child had a sore throat and I didn’t have time to come in. I found medicine X in my medicine cabinet, so I gave him a few doses to see if it would help. Now he has a rash (or bloody diarrhea or a killer headache) ... what do I do?” This parent has traded a pretty simple problem for a much more complex and difficult one. And, thus, "Yikes!"
What You Should Do
Follow our orders! When it comes to antibiotics, the first rule of thumb (and the most important!) is to take medications exactly as prescribed to you by your physician. The thought that goes into a patient’s antibiotic choice is more complicated than it seems and is based on your physician’s knowledge of the patient and his medical history. Not only is the type of infection relevant, but the physician will also consider how this infection is most effectively treated within the patient’s community. Your doctor also takes into account the other medications being administered and what medications have been taken in the past.
Stay the course. It’s very important to remember that when a prescription reads “two pills twice daily for 10 days,” taking the full 10-day course is crucial. (If you knew that, you wouldn’t have had any leftover meds from your last infection!) Undertreating an infection is tempting—once symptoms have disappeared, why continue popping pills? The fact is, not completing a full course is dangerous and seems to be one of the major ways we have created the “super bugs” that are resisting our very best antibiotics.