At this time of year, it feels like everywhere you turn someone is unwell. These bugs wreak havoc with our children’s health and it can be distressing for both children and parents – colds and flu, coughs and ear infections are all regular visitors, and although they may be common, they can make us feel absolutely miserable.
It’s particularly hard on parents juggling sick children, work commitments and the sleep deprivation that often comes with having an unwell child, but there are things we can do to make the bumpy ride of illness a little smoother.
When children are unwell they seek comfort from their primary care-giver. Lots of cuddles, warm drinks, more cuddles and security are required from a parent. Small children can be frightened by feeling unwell because they don’t understand what is happening, so they seek reassurance, a safe and comfortable place to rest and, most importantly, your presence.
A sick child will often have broken sleep (especially if they have an ear infection), which can leave everyone exhausted and frazzled. But it’s important to try and stay sympathetic and calm, even when you are feeling tired and worried.
Ear infections in particular can be very distressing. The result can be a very broken and unhappy night for both the parent and the child. Giving paracetamol or ibuprofen where appropriate can help with the pain of an ear infection, which may help your child sleep.
A visit to your GP can help with providing peace of mind, and reassurance that you are doing the right thing. Forming a partnership with your GP is a great way to feel like you are not alone in trying to manage your child’s health. Being respectful of your doctor’s advice and following their suggestions will help with the road to recovery.
One of the most frustrating issues with illnesses is that more often than not the child just needs to rest and let the bug run its course. Parents are sometimes eager for the doctor to provide a prescription for medication that will help their child recover faster, but it’s important not to go to the doctor expecting them to prescribe antibiotics. A thorough examination by your doctor will enable him or her to determine the best course of action.
In most cases, an ear infection will clear up on its own. However, there will be times when antibiotics might be needed. These include instances where the child is younger than six months, and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
If a child has antibiotics when they are not needed it can reduce their effectiveness when they are necessary, and antibiotic resistance is becoming a widespread problem. This is one reason why many doctors take a conservative approach when treating ailments. The body has an amazing ability to heal itself and often something like an ear infection will resolve itself within a couple of days.
While it is distressing to see your child unwell, antibiotics – if they are not required – will not help with the early pain of an ear infection, nor significantly speed up recovery.. Your child will recover as the infection runs its course and the body heals itself. Administering appropriate pain medication may help to ease the symptoms.
Having an open and collaborative relationship with your GP means that you work in partnership to provide the best care for your child, which includes providing prescriptions for antibiotics only when absolutely necessary.
To foster a more collaborative relationship with your GP in the case of an ear infection or other condition, there are some questions you can ask them:
- Do I really need this treatment/test/procedure? Medical tests can help determine what the problem is, or help with a diagnosis. Procedures help treat the problem. Often a doctor can provide a diagnosis and treat an illness without a test or procedure. Asking this question will help determine how necessary it is to intervene.
- What are the risks? For example, antibiotics in very young children can cause stomach upset or diarrhoea, so asking this question will help keep you informed. It will also help you understand the nature of the test/treatment and if it will lead to further tests or treatment.
- Are there simpler and safer options? For example, with an ear infection your GP may advise that waiting a couple of days as a course of action to determine if the ear infection will clear up on its own.
- What happens if I don’t do anything? It is worth asking how things may progress if you take a more conservative approach. As mentioned earlier, the body has an amazing ability to heal itself if it is given the chance.
- What are the costs of the test or treatment? Medical expenses can quickly escalate so if you and your doctor are looking at all options together, this is something you will both need to consider.
If you ask these questions, and your doctor still believes that your child requires antibiotics, you can be safe in the knowledge that you are getting exactly the right care for your child. You and your doctor would have worked together to establish the most suitable treatment for your child.
An open conversation and a collaborative approach with your doctor, combined with lots of love, cuddles and patience, will ensure that your child receives the best possible care for a swift recovery.
Choosing Wisely Australia® is an initiative that brings the community together to improve the quality of healthcare through considering tests, treatments, and procedures where evidence shows they provide no benefit or, in some cases, lead to harm.
Led by Australia’s colleges, societies and associations and facilitated by NPS MedicineWise, Choosing Wisely Australia challenges the way we think about healthcare, questioning the notion ‘more is always better’.
As the catalyst for public discussion, Choosing Wisely Australia is encouraging clinicians and consumers to start a conversation about what care is truly needed – identifying which practices are helpful and which are not.