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Should children be given antibiotics?

Hello to all woo-hoo! parents. To explain a bit of myself, I live by the motto ‘doctor by trade, little bit of everything by nature’ There is very little that I don’t wish to try or experience in life and subsequently have had many different work and life opportunities. 

Professionally I have assisted with setting up telehealth applications, setting up family medical clinics, working in my local A&E department, setting up occupational health and wellness initiatives, performing emergency medical evacuations on tiny, shaky air ambulances in hostile regions around the world, injecting the public with botulism toxins, researching health policy, teaching in nursery schools, medical writing for pharmaceutical companies/magazines/online websites, and currently I am learning to manage the physical health of fighters between rounds, work more with functional medicine whilst setting up my most personally exciting project to date – working with preschool children to educate about health and wellness. 

Healthcare has remained the undercurrent of my interests since 2005 when I began my medical degree. I have seen many battle to hold on to their lives and, inevitably, witnessed many lose this battle. Therefore, a lot of my free time has been spent delivering motivational speeches, writing healthcare articles and engaging in ‘Doctalk’ podcasts as a means to encourage others to adopt healthier but balanced and sustainable lifestyle decisions. It is also exceptionally important to me that I encourage healthy emotional and mental health strategies.

Currently, I work within general health and cosmetic medicine and appointments can be arranged by emailing me at drb.jenna@gmail.com. I have set up a YouTube channel called ‘Dogtor Florence’ to teach the under 5’s about healthcare in my spare time. Please do give some of our early videos a like and subscribe! We are also found on social media via @drjennaburton and @dogtorflorence.

I am so worried about my little one – should I push for antibiotics?!

A cough, a cold or a suspected infected ear. ‘I’ll take a 3-day course of azithromax, please.’

As patients and parents in the UAE, we are continuously seeking over the counter antibiotic therapy, whether it is clinically indicated or not. With many medications at our disposal and many pharmacists and doctors happy to offer lengthy prescriptions for the simplest of coughs and colds, we have the ongoing issue – shall I ask them for some antibiotics…’ just in case?’

This is even more pronounced when the medical concern is regarding our children. We worry that rather than a headache, they have meningitis. Rather than a cough, they have a chest infection. Or rather than a runny bottom, they have severe gut eating bacteria that must be immediately irradicated! 

It is fair to say that our reasoned minds become somewhat plagued with anxiety and dread when our children’s health is anything less than perfect. 

Sadly, however, antibiotics are not the quick fix we often hope for. They usually upset our intestines’ natural flora, resulting in stomach discomfort and diarrhoea for weeks following their intake. Likewise, they can also cause some uncomfortable nausea or vomiting. Occasionally, an allergy arises to a prescribed antibiotic, resulting in rashes, facial swellings, or worse. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergy that can result in swelling of the airways, difficulty breathing and emergency hospital admission and treatment. 

This is without even considering the level of antibiotic resistance that occurs from unhelpful and unnecessary prescriptions. ‘We think the Middle East is one of the hotspots globally for antibiotic resistance’, says Richard Murphy, an infectious-disease specialist with Doctors Without Borders.  

But why is antibiotic resistance a problem?

In April, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that current levels of antibiotic resistance were severe enough for ‘common infections and minor injuries to kill.’ Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO Assistant Director. ‘Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can kill. The implications will be devastating.’ 

Annually 23,000 people lose their lives in the United States secondary to bacterial resistance, a statistic set only to increase. WHO quotes that Klebsiella pneumonia, E.coli, gonorrhoea and MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) are key bacteria contributing to our resistance epidemic. Thus resulting in intensive care admissions and fatalities when previously treated with simple oral or intravenous medications. 

Why is the Middle East a bacteria resistant hotspot?

The reality is that patients in a private market, such as Dubai, are beginning to dictate their own healthcare. It can be hard to encourage patients to see why antibiotic therapy is not always appropriate and to appreciate the long term health benefit of ‘watching and waiting.’

Likewise, if a doctor does not prescribe the antibiotic patients are looking for, they may question their clinical judgment and seek an alternative doctor who will provide the prescription. Luckily antibiotics are no longer available over the counter in Dubai. Patients dissatisfied with their doctor’s advice previously head straight to the local pharmacy to buy the desired medications.

What can we do?

Everyone can potentially make a difference, and in fact, it takes everyone to make that difference. 

It is normal to worry about our children’s health. However, realising that antibiotics are not always the answer is the first step towards healthier attitudes towards antibiotic treatment. Despite this, if you are concerned over the welfare of your child, there is nothing wrong in seeking a second opinion and/or taking them back to your healthcare professional to be reassessed if there is no improvement.

  • If your little one is prescribed antibiotics, be sure to complete the course. This ensures bacteria do not have the opportunity to meet an antibiotic but live to tell the tale (and grow to fight it.) 
  • Be patient. Don’t necessarily start antibiotics at the first sign of fever. Fever does not always equal bacterial infection. Viral illness can also cause temperatures, and sometimes it is worth waiting for culture results before jumping to the antibiotics. Your doctor will guide you with this. 
  • Try to quit smoking. Smoking can result in recurrent chest infections for those around you, including your children, which regularly require antibiotics. Continuing with smoking means continuing with antibiotics. 
  •  Have the underlying problem seen to. If your child continues to have throat infections or infective sinusitis – maybe a trip to the Ear, Nose and Throat specialist may be required to find out why and whether something is underlying that may need treatment. 
  • You can always seek an influenza or Covid 19 test at your doctor. This may provide reassurance that the issue is viral rather than bacterial. Your doctor will still prescribe any necessary supportive treatment (or refer you to the hospital if required) to help your child through fighting the virus. 

If you are worried about your child’s condition out of office hours, do not hesitate to call 998/999 for an ambulance or direct yourself to the nearest accident and emergency department. 

Want to get your children into health and learning about the body?! Follow @Dogtorflorence on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

This week’s video is all about how to be HEALTHY. Find it here: https://youtu.be/KvvmLkhR9Bw

Dr. Jenna will be speaking during the Parent talk session in woo-hoo! on 5th & 12th February –  11:15AM. After the session, you also get to speak to her one on one and ask her questions. woo-hoo! is a state-of-the-art children’s museum that caters to children between the ages of 0-12 years old. With 10 different galleries and over 50 exhibits, woo-hoo! helps children explore the world around them by providing them with an engaging space. Click here to purchase your tickets to visit the museum.


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