What is antibiotic resistance, and how can we stop it?

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 Photo: Getty Images

You may have heard about antibiotic resistance. It's the future-case scenario where antibiotics no longer work, right?

While it sounds futuristic, it's actually happening right now.

And it's something we should consider every time we take antibiotics, or have them prescribed for our children.

That's because, when we use antibiotics inappropriately - such as taking them for an illness that doesn't need them, or just storing them for later - we're contributing to the problem.

When bacteria become resistant to an antibiotic, that antibiotic no longer works against those bacteria.

This means we may end up needing to use different antibiotics to get rid of the infection. This is a real issue because there are only a limited number of antibiotics available.

Once we have exhausted them all, we will have nothing left in our arsenal against bacterial infections.

If that happens, bacterial infections like pneumonia or skin infections can become deadly, and medical advances we take for granted – such as simple surgery – would be too risky.

But when our kids are sick it's easy to gloss over these issues. After all, the main thing on our minds at that time is trying to help our little one feel better!

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So we take our child to the doctor and hope that the doctor can give us something that will help her recover quickly.

But the truth is, a lot of common childhood illnesses are caused by viruses, not bacteria. In fact, according to the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, "It is common for children to have between six and 10 viral illnesses in the first few years of life."

And if your child has an illness caused by a virus, antibiotics won't help. At all.

They won't help your child get better quicker. Nor will they improve her symptoms or make her feel 'just a bit' better.

They won't do anything at all.

When your doctor tells you that antibiotics can't help your child because she has a viral illness, that's not your doctor's way of saying that her illness isn't "bad enough" to warrant antibiotics.

Your doctor isn't diminishing your child's sickness by saying she doesn't need antibiotics.

Instead, your doctor's just saying that antibiotics can't help her particular illness because it's not caused by a bacteria.

Take the flu, for example. It's a nasty illness, consisting of sudden onset of fever, aches and pains and can make your child feel dreadful.

But the flu is caused by a virus, not a bacteria, so antibiotics can't help.

It can be quite a shock to see your child unwell and to realise that antibiotics won't improve anything. After all, antibiotics are our 'go to' medication when our kids are sick. They're the 'big guns' we use to help our children feel better.

But if your doctor says your child doesn't need antibiotics, it really is in your child's best interests not to have them.

Not only will antibiotics be ineffective against her infection and possibly lead to antibiotic resistance, they also come with possible side effects and risks. These include symptoms such as nausea and gastrointestinal symptoms, vomiting and possible allergic reactions like a rash.

Instead of trying to persuade your doctor to give you antibiotics if she thinks they're not needed, ask her for other ways you can ease your child's symptoms and aid her recovery.

However, if your child is not recovering from her illness or her symptoms worsen, seek a further medical opinion.

And, if you strongly believe your child needs antibiotics in the first place, discuss your concerns with your doctor.

If we do our best to stop using unnecessary antibiotics we will reduce antibiotic resistance, and ensure antibiotics are effective for our children when they really need them.

Find out more information about colds, flu and antibiotic resistance.