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Common Antibiotics Used to Treat Bacterial Illnesses

Antibiotics are one of the most commonly prescribed medicines in a Pediatrician\’s office. While they cannot be used to treat viral infections, like the common cold or the flu, they are used to treat many common bacterial infections in children.  Antibiotics, however, are a large class of medications, ranging from penicillin — the first antibiotic — to very powerful, newer drugs used to treat MRSA and other serious infections. Thankfully, many antibiotics come in a liquid form, making it possible to give them to a child. If your child has been prescribed an antibiotic, it\’s helpful to become familiar with that particular drug, including its indications (what doctors use it for) and side effects. Some of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics include:

Amoxil—Or its generic equivalent amoxicillin, is the most commonly prescribed antibiotic for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has deemed it the first-line treatment for ear infections and pneumonia. It can also be used for sinus infections, strep throat, lymph node infections, and some urinary tract infections, among others.

Augmentin—Generically known as amoxicillin/clavulanic acid, Augmentin can be thought of as a more powerful version of Amoxil, as the added component, clavulanic acid, can kill more bacteria. It is used to treat the same types of infections as Amoxil but is often used if your child’s infection is not responding to the first-line choice Amoxil or if your doctor thinks that your child has a more serious infection. Both Amoxil and Augmentin are members of the penicillin family of antibiotics and should not be taken if your child is allergic to penicillin.

Zithromax—Also called azithromycin, Zithromax is most commonly used to treat respiratory infections thought to be caused by bacteria. Sometimes, it is also used to treat ear infections or other types of infections. Most antibiotics are given for a 10-day course, but Zithromax only requires a 5-day course.

Omnicef—Omnicef, otherwise known as cefdinir, is most commonly prescribed for pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, and urinary tract infections. It is an expensive medication that is not always covered by insurance without prior authorization, so be sure to discuss this with your pediatrician and pharmacist.

Bactrim—Also called sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim, Bactrim can be used to treat urinary tract infections and ear infections, to name a few. Sometimes your doctor may also prescribe this drug for skin infections, especially infections that may be caused by MRSA.

Cleocin—Cleocin, or more commonly known as clindamycin, can often be a good antibiotic choice for patients who are allergic to penicillin drugs, depending on the type of infection. This drug is also commonly used for skin infections if the pediatrician thinks that they are caused by MRSA.

Common side effects for all of the above antibiotics include a diaper rash or oral thrush caused by yeast (or candida), nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea. If your child develops diarrhea, talk to your doctor about giving your child a probiotic to help. Some pediatricians may recommend giving your child yogurt each day, depending on his age, because it contains many good bacteria to restore the balance in the GI tract and help with diarrhea.

No matter what antibiotic you give your child if you notice hives, trouble breathing, or swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat, call 911 immediately. These are signs of a severe allergic reaction. If you notice any other unusual reactions, don\’t be afraid to call your doctor or pharmacist and ask questions.


  • The Merck Manual Home Health Handbook
  • Antibiotics.
    National Institutes of Health
  • Common Childhood Bacterial Infections.
    The Merck Manual Home Health Handbook
  • Overview of bacterial Infections in Childhood.

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