Giving children two or more courses of antibiotics in a year makes further doses 30% more likely to fail, a study has suggested.
Researchers from Oxford, Cardiff and Southampton universities looked at the dangers of overprescribing antibiotics for common respiratory tract infections such as coughs, sore throats or earache.
Preschool children given more than two doses in a year were more likely to find the next course less effective and end up needing further treatment, including being admitted to hospital, the study found.
“When children receive more antibiotics their likelihood of re-consulting a health professional is affected and inadvertently increases clinical workload,” said Dr Oliver van Hecke, from the University of Oxford.
The research, published in the British Journal of General Practice, involved analysing the electronic patient records of more 250,000 preschool children held in the Clinical Practice Research Datalink.
The experts said antibiotic resistance could be to blame for the results, but also pointed to a lack of awareness of the limited role of antibiotics in many childhood infections, causing parents to seek further treatment unnecessarily.
Responding to the study, the Royal College of GPs urged parents to trust their GP if they advise that antibiotics are not needed.
Chairwoman Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “GPs are acutely aware of the potential dangers of prescribing of antibiotics when they are not absolutely necessary – and how this can contribute to growing resistance to these important drugs, which is a global concern.
“This research drives home how important it is for patients – and particularly the parents of young children – to understand that antibiotics do not work for every infection and should not be prescribed for the most common childhood conditions such as colds, coughs, ear infections or sort throats which are usually caused by viruses.
“There is a very difficult balance to be struck as antibiotics can be lifesaving drugs for severe infection-related conditions such as sepsis – but instances where children who have an infection really do need antibiotics should be relatively uncommon.”
She added: “GPs are highly trained prescribers and will not suggest any course of medication unnecessarily. Antibiotics will only be prescribed for patients of any age in situations where this is appropriate, and as determined by a full assessment of the patient and their medical history.”