Side effects of antibiotics

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. There are lots of different types of antibiotics. The length of time antibiotics need to be taken can vary but the prescribed course always needs to be completed. Some children may need to take a course of antibiotics for a week or less, others for longer and some children may take a low dose of antibiotics frequently (also known as antibiotic prophylaxis) to prevent infections.

Like all medicines, antibiotics may cause side effects. People react differently to antibiotics and some children may tolerate some antibiotics better than others. The most common side effects of antibiotics are diarrhoea, feeling sick or vomiting. These should pass once the course of antibiotics has been completed.

Some of the parents we spoke to, like Waj and Jo, said their children had not experienced any side effects, or only very mild ones, from the antibiotics they had taken.

Lyndey’s children who all have asthma usually have a five day course of antibiotic treatment. They experienced no side effects apart from slight diarrhoea when they were babies.

Age at interview 35

Gender Female

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Other parents said their children sometimes experienced diarrhoea while taking antibiotics, but not always. Clare noticed that her daughter sometimes experienced side effects when taking Amoxicillin. Adam’s son sometimes has vomiting and diarrhoea.

Even though children may experience side effects, it is important to finish a course of antibiotics and to take them as instructed.

Henry sometimes has diarrhoea when he takes antibiotics. His GP advised that the antibiotics are still working despite the diarrhoea and to complete the course.

Age at interview 44

Gender Female

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Some children developed more severe digestive system problems, such as colitis and lactose intolerance. Their parents wondered if long term use of antibiotics had contributed to these problems. Jack has been taking prophylactic antibiotics for two years and he has developed colitis.

Nia wonders if long term use of antibiotics led Daniel to develop lactose intolerance. His paediatrician did not know.

Age at interview 27

Gender Female

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While parents accepted that their child needed to take antibiotics to recover from their illness and to prevent them from become seriously ill, there was also some concern about the long term effect on their child’s digestive system. Probiotics are thought to help restore the natural balance of bacteria in the gut but they are not suitable for all children *1. Fiona was worried about whether antibiotics were having an effect on her daughter’s digestive system and she was considering getting advice from a dietician about probiotics.

Eliza tolerated amoxicillan well but she had side effects with other antibiotics. Probiotics prescribed by a dietician improved her health.

Age at interview 46

Gender Female

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Allergic reaction

Some people have an allergic reaction to antibiotics and need to have this recorded in their medical records. A few of the parents we talked to said their child had experienced an allergic reaction to a particular antibiotic. Rebecca’s son came out in a ‘huge rash and covered in black, it looked like black bruises’ after taking a low dose of Amoxicillin for a couple of weeks. He changed to Clarithromycin and did not experience any further reactions. Alfie had taken various antibiotics but he only had an allergic reaction to Vancomycin where he developed ‘red mounds’ on his hands and they were itchy. Alex usually has a flare up of his eczema when he is taking antibiotics. Alessio found out he is allergic to the artificial colouring in antibiotics. Now he takes other antibiotics without colouring.

Rahma’s son had a severe allergic reaction shortly after being given an injection of amoxicillin when he was three years old.

Age at interview 58

Gender Female

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Allergic reactions to antibiotics are recorded in a child’s medical records to make sure that particular antibiotic is avoided in the future. Usually there will be another type of antibiotic the child can take.

See ‘Parents concerns about taking antibiotics‘ and ‘Parents views on the benefits of antibiotics‘.

* Probiotics for the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea in children-

Parents concerns about taking antibiotics

Antibiotics are used to treat infections caused by bacteria. Many childhood infections are caused by viruses and would have got better without antibiotics. But the...