Are Antibiotics Safe for Children?: 4 Risks of Antibiotic Overuse

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In my own experiences, I’ve found that antibiotics are prescribed left and right for various conditions. But are they always necessary? And are they always safe to use, especially for kids? Learn about some of the health risks associated with frequent antibiotic use in children below.

Antibiotics Kill Both Good and Bad Bacteria

Antibiotics work to rid the body of infections because they kill bacteria. But they don’t just kill the particular type of bacteria causing your symptoms; they aren’t specific, and so they kill the other bacteria in your body at the same time.

And guess what? Not all bacteria are bad. In fact, a lot of the bacteria living and growing in our bodies are essential to good health.

The community of bacteria living in our bodies is termed the microbiome. A healthy, well-balanced microbiome is necessary for many functions in the body, including those related to immunity, digestion, metabolism, and more. An unbalanced, unhealthy microbiome can translate into an unhealthy body; disrupted microbiomes are associated with things like asthma, obesity, and irritable bowel symptoms.[1,2]

So when you take antibiotics, your microbiome can be significantly altered, taking away some of the beneficial bacteria your body needs to function properly. It can take several months for the bacterial population to return to normal after changes made by antibiotics.[3] And in some cases, it seems that lasting harm can be caused by antibiotic use, especially during childhood.

Researchers are uncovering more and more evidence that the development and maintenance of a healthy microbiome in childhood is essential to a child’s health in youth and as they age.

Health Conditions Associated with Antibiotic Use in Childhood

Antibiotic use has been associated with a number of health problems in children:

1. Juvenile arthritis. A study involving over 450,000 children looked at how many antibiotics were prescribed to each child and the incidence of juvenile arthritis. After adjusting for other confounding factors, the researchers found that children who had been prescribed antibiotics were more than twice as likely to develop juvenile arthritis compared to those who were not prescribed antibiotics.[3] Previous studies found a similar association between antibiotic use and juvenile arthritis.[4]

2. Crohn’s disease. Researchers found that kids who had more than seven antibiotics purchased for them during their lifetime were at double the risk of developing Crohn’s disease, compared to those kids with six or fewer antibiotic purchases.[5] A review of 11 studies came to the same conclusion, making a strong association between antibiotic exposure and the odds of being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.[6]

3. Obesity. Kids who are repeatedly prescribed antibiotics (especially broad spectrum antibiotics) before the age of two are at a higher risk of developing childhood obesity than those who aren’t.[7]

4. Asthma. Antibiotic use in the first few years of life has been repeatedly associated with increased odds of developing asthma. And the more antibiotics used, the higher the risk.[8-10]

Avoiding Antibiotic Overuse for Your Child

In some cases, antibiotics are necessary, and they can literally be lifesaving. But in other circumstances, they might not be necessary, or even helpful. Many common childhood infections are viral, meaning they are caused by viruses and not bacteria; in these cases, antibiotics won’t even help. And some mild infections, even if caused by bacteria, can resolve on their own without medication.

The best thing you can do to protect your child from unnecessary and excessive antibiotic use is to question your child’s pediatrician. Don’t let them prescribe an antibiotic without being sure that it is entirely necessary for the safety of your child. Ask them if the antibiotic is the only safe option, what would happen if you waited it out without using the antibiotic, and if there are any tests you can run to be sure the infection is bacterial and not viral.

To read more about the problems associated with antibiotic overuse, and how to protect yourself and your family, read What Do Antibiotics Do to Your Body? The Antibiotic Dilemma, Part 1 and Part 2. You’ll learn how antibiotics can increase your chances for developing diabetes by a shocking amount, and what to do when antibiotics are the only viable treatment option.


[1] PLoS Pathog. 2015 Jul 2;11(7):e1004903.
[2] Nutr Rev. 2015 Aug;73 Suppl 1:32-40.
[3] Pediatrics. 2015 Aug;136(2):e333-43.
[4] J Rheumatol. 2015 Mar;42(3):521-6.
[5] Am J Epidemiol. 2012 Apr 15;175(8):775-84.
[6] Am J Gastroenterol. 2014 Nov;109(11):1728-38.
[7] JAMA Pediatr. 2014 Nov;168(11):1063-9.

Natural Health Advisory Institute contributing editor Chelsea Clark is a writer with a passion for science, human biology, and natural health. She holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology with an emphasis in neuroscience from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. Her research on the relationship between chronic headache pain and daily stress levels has been presented at various regional, national, and international conferences. Chelsea’s interest in natural health has been fueled by her own personal experience with chronic medical issues. Her many profound experiences with natural health practitioners and remedies have motivated Chelsea to contribute to the world of natural health as a researcher and writer for Natural Health Advisory Institute. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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