This Cold and Flu Season, Just Say No to Antibiotics!

Written by:

Suzanne Weaver-Goss


Updated: 02/01/2012

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NOTE: Nothing written below should take the place of advice from your doctor. We are not medically trained, and are not qualified to diagnose or recommend treatment for any illness.

Here in the northeastern U.S., cold and flu season is upon us, and many of us are sick. Throughout the winter, most children experience runny noses, coughs, earaches, and sometimes fevers. Many adults also seem to be “under the weather” with various respiratory or gastrointestinal complaints.

Why Do We Get Sick in January and February?
Of course, the main reason that flus and colds take hold in the winter is that we are all trapped inside in close quarters where germs can spread easily. But I suspect that there is more to it that that.

  • For one thing, the holiday season is busy and stressful at a time when we should perhaps be slowing down because the days are shorter.
  • Also, it is hard not to partake in some late nights and unhealthy eating and too much drinking while celebrating with family and friends; it’s inevitable that even the most conscientious among us will over-indulge.
  • So, our resistance becomes compromised by these lifestyle choices, and then to top it off, we spend much of our time inside with little sun or fresh air. The socializing allows pathogens to easily move through populations.

So, if illnesses are a given in the winter months, how does our “healthcare system” help us deal with this?

Antibiotics in the 1980s

Thirty years ago, when I took my children to the pediatrician for the usual winter illnesses, I was given Tylenol for their fever (Maia blogged about Tylenol recently) and antibiotics if the child’s ear was inflamed. I never gave then fever reducers, but I did give Maia antibiotics once when she was a year old for an earache. Within two weeks–as soon as the antibiotics wore off–her earache came back, and the pediatrician prescribed more antibiotics!

That was the moment I stopped listening to the pediatrician. I sought alternative advice and began to dabble in macrobiotics. The holistic doctor I saw suggested that I stop giving Maia tropical fruit in the winter, concentrating instead on winter fruits (basically apples), winter vegetables (beets, winter squash, kale, broccoli, cabbage), and whole grains (brown rice, millet, oats). I eliminated dairy, wheat products, and sweets except rice syrup, barley malt, and on special occasions, maple syrup. Her earaches cleared up.

At one point during Maia’s toddler years I was concerned because she had some ear pain that had come and gone, so I took her to a pediatrician, where I was told that Maia’s ear was infected and I must give her antibiotics or it would not go away.

I ignored the advice (which was very difficult for a young mother, since back then we were told that ear infections could cause a child to permanently lose her hearing). Instead, I trusted my instincts and all that I had been reading and learning.

Maia never needed antibiotics again and she had a healthy childhood and grew up with her hearing fully intact! With Graham, my second child, I had more confidence and avoided pediatricians except for his well-child visits. I did have a homeopathic doctor that I relied on for advice when I was concerned. He never recommended antibiotics.

I wasn’t extremely strict with my kids’ diets, but in general we ate healthy whole foods. We did eat dairy, but it was limited to raw organic dairy when possible.

Antibiotics in 2012: The More Things Change…

Recently, Graham’s son, Theo (11 months old) had a runny nose and cough. Theo’s very conscientious mother took him to the pediatrician after a particularly rough night of no sleep. Theo couldn’t breathe through his nose and had difficulty nursing and sleeping. A nurse practitioner examined him and recommended antibiotics, despite the absence of a fever. She did say his ear was red.d

I was confused and admittedly annoyed when I heard this! What were the antibiotics for? An ear infection? My daughter-in-law wasn’t even sure.

We have an emergency room doctor with decades of experience in our family, and she told me that the standard practice nowadays is to wait to prescribe antibiotics in the case of suspected ear infection since most are viral. In the case of my own children, their earaches always resolved without treatment.

So why did this nurse practitioner prescribe antibiotics for Theo? Did she suspect a bacterial infection? Was it his cough that concerned her? Again, no one really seemed to provide a straight answer, but it seems antibiotics are still being overused.

What I Wonder About Antibiotics

  • If antibiotics weren’t necessary for my children to enjoy healthy childhoods, are they actually as necessary as pediatricians make them seem for other children?
  • Are they harming children’s immune systems? Heavy and/or early antibiotic use is associated with breast cancer and asthma.
  • What are the implications in the child’s life now and later in life? What is the cost to society?
  • Obviously, antibiotics are a vital medication sometimes, but shouldn’t we only use them when really necessary?
  • Does the public understand that most winter colds and flus are caused by viruses and therefore antibiotics are useless?

“Antibiotic resistance MRSA is the result of decades of often unnecessary antibiotic use. For years, antibiotics have been prescribed for colds, flu and other viral infections that don’t respond to these drugs. Even when antibiotics are used appropriately, they contribute to the rise of drug-resistant bacteria because they don’t destroy every germ they target. Bacteria live on an evolutionary fast track, so germs that survive treatment with one antibiotic soon learn to resist others.”
Source: The Mayo Clinic

Our health care system sometimes seems devoid of common sense, so I urge mothers to question their pediatricians when antibiotics are prescribed. Healthy skepticism is…healthy! Rather than relying on medication for healing many illnesses, I believe we need to build our bodies with whole foods, water, rest, and fresh air and only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary.

I would love to hear from our readers about their experiences with pediatricians, antibiotics, or childhood illnesses. What are your thoughts? When Maia broke her leg at age 6 I was so grateful that she had a wonderful doctor, but in many instances I felt I had to avoid my pediatrician. Have any of you found good pediatricians whom you truly trust?

An Update on My Grandsons

We are lucky to have a wonderful doctor in the family who can check Felix when he’s sick, and thanks to her, Felix has not had any antibiotics to date.

Natalie and Graham never gave Theo the antibiotics (I tried my best not to meddle too much, which of course doesn’t come easily to me!). He is fully recovered a week later.

Suzanne, Certified Holistic Health Coach

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Leave a Reply

  1. Maia James Avatar
    Maia James

    Hi Gillian-
    I'd like to add a suggestion for smoothies as a healthy and dairy-free snack for your son. My son Felix is pretty picky but loves to help blend up frozen fruit, bananas, hemp or flax or chia seeds, and even some veggies (although if I go to heavy on the vegetables he doesn't like it! Try something bland like romaine lettuce to start). If your son is old enough to have nuts and isn't allergic, cashews are a great addition to smoothies as well, and a fabulous dairy replacement. Felix has shown a peanut sensitivity so I stick with hemp seeds which lend a nice nutty flavor and add healthy fats, folate, and tons of zinc. Invest in a Thermos and he can carry around a smoothie all day! If he's a more adventurous eater than Felix is, you could add carrots, kale, beets..
    Felix loves his dairy, but I've been trying to phase it out–in particular I think he eats too much cheese. If you are going to do dairy, yogurt is better than cheese. Anyway, hope your little guy is feeling better!

  2. Suzanne Weaver-Goss Avatar
    Suzanne Weaver-Goss

    Hello Gillian,

    Earaches can be quite painful and a high fever will make a child very uncomfortable. If your child is eating a lot of dairy this might be a place to start. Perhaps you can cut down on dairy and increase vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Whole wheat bread can be nutritious but there are many whole grains that are healthier, such as quinoa, brown rice, and millet. Children often like sweet vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, corn, and beets.

  3. Gillian Avatar

    My son was just diagnosed with his first ear infections (both ears) and was prescribed antibiotics. I have given them to him as I don't know what else to do. He had a high fever all day today, was totally miserable, cuddled up to me for FOUR HOURS, fell asleep against me three times (he hasn't done that in over a year), etc. I don't like the idea of giving him antibiotics but I can't stand the idea of him suffering. He hasn't been touching or tugging at his ears at all today, so I was very surprised with the diagnosis. The doctor barely even looked in his ear before he said "Oh yes, that's an infection."

    I'm going to finish this round of drugs because I feel like I shouldn't stop halfway through. What can I do to prevent the infections from coming back? He eats a pretty good diet but does eat a lot of dairy (all hormone free) and whole wheat. I can't see eliminating those things from his diet. Is there anything else I can do?

  4. Maia James Avatar

    Yes, we've been really happy with our experience there as well. We switched when Felix was around a year because our old pediatrician was the worst!

  5. C Davis Avatar
    C Davis

    yup. I love them! they don't prescribe medicine for anything that won't go away on its own (ear infection etc) so I thought "Nana" would find it interesting.

  6. Maia James Avatar
    Maia James

    Is that the founder of TriBeCa Pediatrics? That's where I take Felix.

  7. C Davis Avatar
    C Davis

    You should check out the book "The New Basics: A-to-Z Baby & Child Care for the Modern Parent". It is by Michele Cohen. I haven't read the book but I use his practice as my pediatrician office. You will like what you read.