Monday, April 7, 2008

Pop Quiz: Do Antibiotics Kill Bacteria?

Answer: This is a trick question. Yes, they do. Big time. But they kill bad ones and good ones.

I've been thinking about antibiotics a lot lately. Boychild was sick last week with a humdinger of a throat infection. "Humdinger," for those of you who don't know, means his throat and glands were so swollen he couldn't open his mouth properly and when he talked it sounded like he had a sock tied around his tongue.

His doctor is away, so Groom-boy took him up to the ER on Wednesday. (
I was too chicken.) This resulted in a prescription for another antibiotic - the third time since January. This particular drug seemed to make Boychild go mental, which was great fun for everyone at night. It was working on the throat, but he would wake up crying and writhing in pain from his gut and he was having bad dreams. He was very agitated. This happened one other time with a different antibiotic.

So by now I'm feeling like World's Worst Mother(TM). What am I doing wrong? Why is my kid
always getting throat infections? Is it something more than a susceptibility - something really serious? (Mama P assures me it probably isn't. Thanks, Mama P!)

Still, my Mommy Senses were jangling. Anxiety was running through me like an electrical current. I was starting to blurt out things to strangers, like "The dingos ate my baby!" It didn't help that Groom-boy and I were getting poor sleeps since Boychild was waking up hysterical periodically through the night every night for three nights.

Groom-boy and Boychild returned to the ER a few days later day to see about changing the prescription to one that didn't turn our child into a Psychobananahead. Dr. Personality was on, so I'm glad I was still too chicken (see above). It went better this time. He said to Groom-boy, "You and your wife should monitor when this agitation is taking place." (Well, at night when he's on crappy drugs. And when he feels sick. And when he's having nightmares about mean doctors. Oh, wait, that's me.)

That got me to thinkin', even more than I already was. My neighbour had mentioned that sometimes kids get stuck on a cycle of infections because of antibiotics. I already knew they should be avoided if possible (antibiotics, not the neighbours), that they were only useful for treating bacterial infections (such as strep throat) but not viruses, and I knew they wreak havoc on the digestive system, knocking out the good bacteria along with the bad (hence our supply of
probiotic yogurt).

Our doctor has been reassuring us that Boychild is not considered overprescribed and that in a year or two his immune system will be more mature and he should be able to fight these things better. It's too soon, he believes, to consider getting his tonsils out. Some doctors advise us to go ahead and start treating an infection with antibiotics even before it is confirmed as strep. Or they don't even do the test. Sometimes, they say, the test says it's not strep but it is. Don't worry about rheumatic fever, they say, because it's so rare as a complication from strep these days it's practically inconsequential.

Um, okay. Well, that clears things RIGHT up. So what's a mom to do?

Well, you've got to ask a lot of questions, for one thing, and decide on your comfort level in terms of treatment. And for heaven's sake, if you're in doubt, go to a doctor.

Something that seems to be happening is that if you take a sick child and his nasty-looking throat to a doctor, there's a good chance you'll get a prescription whether it's confirmed strep or not. I don't blame the doctors for this. I figure they think if they don't give a mama something for her baby she will either freak out on their faces or sue their butts later if something goes seriously awry as a result of there being no intervention. Either way, there could be injury to a body part, so better just give crazy mama the prescription. (By the way, I'm actually very mild-mannered/wishy washy when it comes to dealing with health-care people, so these scenarios are unlikely. Maybe my crazy hair scares them.)

So, either you suck it up and try letting the icky thing run its course without seeing a doctor and confirming a diagnosis or you do what I have been doing, you get it checked out. It never occurred to me to assume I would always get a prescription. I was not necessarily looking for one, just some direction.

I'm starting to wonder, though, if antibiotics are inadvertently compromising his system since we seem to be stuck in a rut of illness. Or maybe it has just been a bad winter.

In desperation - I mean in an effort to be proactive - I visited our local health-food store a few days ago to see if there was something I could give to Boychild that would help to restore his immune system. I had the most AMAZING discussion (see blurting to strangers, above) with one of the staff members, whose son went through the same thing as Boychild: an endless cycle of strep throat and antibiotics. She broke the cycle by cutting processed foods from his diet and supplementing with stuff to bolster his immune system. Her story sounded so much like mine I wanted to hug her. Her son also missed school and then was anxious about going back, and he complained about a sore tummy. Sound like anyone we know?

If they're feeling sick, they're going to feel
anxious, I figure. Eureka?

So now I am armed with some probiotics and supplements to administer once he is finished with this round of antibiotics. For the first time in weeks I feel like maybe I can do something to keep us away from the pharmacy. Not that there's anything wrong with the pharmacy...I'd just rather be playing in the backyard with the kids.

Wish me luck!


Evenspor said...

Definitely not a bad mommy thing. Some kids are just like that. My sister once had strep throat seven times in one summer, and I never got it once, even though I shared a room with her. Crazy. And yes, it has been one of those winters.

momma's heart said...

My boys were just given antibiotics for bronchitis, and I question whether even that was necessary. Bronchitis can be viral or bacterial, and he didn't test to see which it was. I don't know how to test anyway, except to send secretions to the lab?

Timmy's throat was very red from constant coughing; Doc did a strep test, just in case.

I gave them the antibiotics, but I don't feel good about it. I think from now on I will wait at least seven whole days before going to the doctor. That way, I give our bodies a chance to heal on their own. I took the boys in on day four of their illness, which was probably too soon, but I was hearing a lot of chest congestion, and they had 3.5 days of fever at that point.

Like you, I didn't go in there looking for medicine; I never do.

I feel for you and your little guy. Keep us posted.

Steph said...

Arwen: I had strep throat three times in my last year of high school, which was really handy. My younger brother managed to avoid it until it knocked him out a bunch of times in his 20s. It's bizarre. Let's just hope it ends with winter!

Pam: It's so hard to know what to do, but when it comes right down to it I'd rather err on the side of caution and go to the doctor. Don't feel bad about that. It's really hard to wait it out, and what if you wait too long, right? My new strategy is prevention! ;) It's good in theory, but let's hope it works!

Hope your boys feel better soon.