Report: 70,000 Kids End up in the ER for Antibiotic Side Effects Each Year

Report: 70,000 Kids End up in the ER for Antibiotic Side Effects Each Year
Posted on

Each year in the United States, antibiotic side effects send about 70,000 children to emergency rooms, according to a report published in August.

For the study, supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers used nationwide estimates for outpatient antibiotic prescriptions and data from a nationally-representative sample of ER visits to gain a better understanding of antibiotic use in people under 19.

Antibiotic side effects and reactions to the drugs resulted in 70,000 ER visits from 2011-2015, the authors found. About 86% of those visits were for allergic reactions, including everything from a mild rash to potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis.

The likelihood of an antibiotic sending a child to the ER depended greatly on the child’s age and the type of medication he was taking.

  • Children under 2 carried the greatest risk of a side effect, with 41% of ER visits involving youngsters in this age group.
  • Among toddlers and babies, antibiotics were the culprit in 63.9% of ER visits for adverse drug effects. [1] [2]

Among kids aged 9 or younger, Amoxicillin caused the most side effects, and for children 10-19, sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim caused the most side effects. Both are commonly-prescribed antibiotics. [1]

The other most frequently-implicated classes of antibiotics included (in order): [3]

  • Oral cephalosporins (11.9%)
  • Sulfonamides (11.1%)

Overall, the majority of ER visits were caused by adverse reactions to sulfonamides and clindamycin.

Especially Risky Antibiotics

Moderate-to-severe allergic reactions occurred in 30% of patients taking an oral quinolone alone. That statistic is especially troubling because fluoroquinolones (quinolones that contain a fluorine atom) are wrought with health risks. The medicines are linked with permanent nerve, joint, and muscle damage as well as mental health problems, just to name a few of the drugs’ many risks. [3] [4]

Read: Exposing Fluoroquinolone Antibiotics, Plus 7 Solutions

In July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered a 5th black box warning for fluoroquinolone labels to warn patients about the drugs’ potential to cause dangerous drops in blood sugar and neurological side effects, including delirium and memory problems.

Antibiotics are Often Completely Unnecessary

Natural Society

The whole of the report shows that sometimes antibiotics do more harm than good, and in many cases are unnecessary.

For example, antibiotics are useless for at least 70% of strep throat cases, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

In a press release, lead author Maribeth C. Lovegrove, MPH, Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, CDC, said: [1]

“For parents and other caregivers of children, these findings are a reminder that while antibiotics save lives when used appropriately, antibiotics can also harm children and should only be used when needed.

For healthcare providers, these findings are a reminder that adverse effects from antibiotics are common and can be clinically significant and consequential for pediatric patients.”

Upwards of 1/3 of outpatient pediatric prescriptions for antibiotics are unnecessary, according to the CDC.

In many cases, antibiotics are over-prescribed in children because many parents and caregivers overestimate the medications’ benefits and simply don’t understand, or don’t care to believe, that there are many things antibiotics cannot treat, including viruses and common colds. Doctors are eager to meet patient expectations and will often prescribe antibiotics just to make them happy.

The study didn’t delve into how antibiotics cause adverse effects, but the authors say the problem is likely worse than their report shows, as the analysis only looked at side effects severe enough to warrant a trip to the ER.

Dr. Michael Russo, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who was not involved in the study, said:

“I hope that pediatricians and all providers who prescribe antibiotics to children, provide counseling to patients and their families about the potential adverse effects from taking antibiotics. We should be selective about which ones we use when we use them, and how long we use them for.”

The full report is published in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society.


[1] ABC News

[2] UPI

[3] Medscape

[4] WTMJ-TV Milwaukee