In Depth: Pediatrics

Taking Care of Your Child

There are many medical tests, treatments and procedures out there now for kids and teenagers. But which ones are right for your child, and which ones might actually do more harm than good?
The materials here, created by Consumer Reports as part of the Choosing Wisely program,  explain which tests and treatments might be right for your child -- and what you can do instead if you decide to skip them. Here's a useful summary: Getting the Right Care to Keep Your Children Healthy.

Contents of This Section

Sore Throat, Pink Eye, and Other Common Ailments
Asthma, Allergies, and Other Respiratory Ailments
CT Scans, MRIs, and X-rays for Your Child
Pregnancy, Newborns, and Babies
Tests and Drugs That Your Teenager Can Avoid

Asleep

Sore Throat, Pink Eye, and Other Common Ailments

When your child doesn’t feel well, you may want to give him or her something to feel better – quickly. Often times you may think that antibiotics will help. But is that always the best choice?

 

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Think your Child Needs Antibiotics? Antibiotics often aren’t the answer. Taking antibiotics when they aren’t needed can cause dangerous side effects. They can also increase the chance that the drugs won’t work for your child, and other children, when they really are needed.

Antibiotics for a Cough, Sore Throat or Runny Nose Most of the time, children don't need antibiotics for a sore throat, cough or runny nose. In fact, they can do more harm than good.

Antibiotics for Pink Eye Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is a common condition, especially in children. Doctors often prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments for pink eye. But antibiotics don’t usually help – and can actually cause harm.

Antibiotics for Ear Infections in Children In most cases of middle ear infection, antibiotics are not needed. They don't work for ear infections caused by viruses and do not help the pain. Usually, viral infections and many bacterial infections go away on their own in two to three days, especially in children who are over 2 years old.

Oral Antibiotics for Ear Infections Sometimes antibiotic eardrops are safer and more effective than oral antibiotics. This is particularly true for children with tubes in their ear and people with Swimmer's Ear.

Asthma, Allergies, and Other Respiratory Ailments

Does your child have allergies, asthma or other breathing problems? If so, you might want to get him or her tested or try certain medicines quickly. First though, find out if that’s the best choice – based on what allergists have to say.

 

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Allergy Tests Skin or blood tests, when combined with a doctor’s exam and medical history, can help determine if your child is truly allergic to something that he or she inhaled, touched, or ate. But if your child doesn’t have symptoms or a medical evaluation that points to an allergy, you should think twice about getting testing.

Spirometry for Asthma If your child has symptoms that could be asthma, his or her doctor should perform a simple breathing test to confirm whether he or she really does have asthma – or another health problem. Many people who need the test don’t receive it.

IgG Replacement Therapy Some children suffer from infections because their immune system can’t make enough germ-fighting antibodies. A treatment known as immunoglobulin replacement (IgG) therapy can be a lifesaver for them. But many children receive the treatment even though they don’t need it. That’s not a good idea.

Treating Sinus Problems Millions of people, including children, are prescribed antibiotics each year for sinus infections – a frequent complication of the common cold, hay fever, and other respiratory allergies. Unfortunately, most of these people don’t actually need antibiotics – and might be harmed by them.

CT Scans, MRIs, and X-rays for Your Child

Imaging tests -- like CT scans and X-rays -- are meant to help identify a medical problem. But sometimes they're not needed and can do more harm than good. The materials here give you information on when you might want to think twice about imaging tests for your child.

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A Knock on the Head

A head injury can be scary -- especially in children. 

In the past ten years, almost twice as many children have gone to the Emergency Room for head injuries as used to. A lot of these children get CT scans, even though one out of three of them aren’t needed.

A CT scan is – pronounced “Cat Scan” – takes many X-rays. These create a 3D picture of your child’s brain. CT scans use radiation, which can increase the risk that your child will get cancer.

For most children with head injuries, a CT scan often is not needed. They are useful for skull fractures or bleeding in the brain, but not for mild concussions. Before ordering a CT scan, the doctor should examine your child and ask about his or her injury and symptoms. Learn more here.

Chest X-rays

There are times when your child’s doctor might suggest that your child get an X-ray of their chest. This can be useful if your doctor examines your child and thinks that he or she might have pneumonia. But even then, normal “shadows” might give you a wrong diagnosis. This can lead to medicine or more testing that your child does not need -- and that might be harmful.

Your child’s doctor might also suggest a chest X-ray before your child is scheduled for surgery. This is important to do if your child has a heart or lung condition or disease, or if the surgery will involve your child’s heart, lungs, or chest.

But X-rays rarely find problems in people who are low-risk, like most kids. Instead, a careful medical history – when your child’s doctor asks you a lot of questions – and a physical exam, should be enough. 

Chest X-rays gives your child a dose of radiation. Over time, radiation will build up in their body – and this can increase their chances of getting cancer.

Learn more about chest X-rays here.

Pregnancy, Newborns, and Babies

Over the past several decades, hospitals, healthcare providers, and patients have become more willing to intervene in the natural process of pregnancy and childbirth, without any pressing medical reason, but with risk to mothers and babies.

 

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Give your baby a great start. Here are ten things to do during your pregnancy and labor, as well as ten things to reject once you’re in the delivery room.

Once you have your baby, it’s natural to want to do everything you can to keep him or her safe. This ranges from tests and treatments for preemies to breathing monitors for sleeping babies. But do they all help, and what are the risks?

Treatments and Tests Your Baby May Not Need in the Hospital: Premature babies often need tests or treatments in the hospital. Some tests and treatments have side effects and risks, so it’s important to get just the ones your baby needs. Here are some common tests and treatments your baby may not need.

Home Apnea Monitors for SIDS: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is rare, but parents worry a lot about it. Home apnea monitors track the breathing and heart rate of sleeping babies. An alarm goes off if a baby’s breathing stops briefly (apnea) or if the heart rate is unusually slow. This monitor might sound like a good idea to concerned parents, but most newborns do not need a monitor. 

Tests and Drugs That Your Teenager Can Avoid

The teen years bring special challenges for parents. But parenting a teen is a little easier when you have the facts you need to make good choices.

FaceToFace

Pap Tests Teen girls don’t need a Pap test, even if they’re sexually active. Pap tests screen for cervical cancer, which is very rare in teens.

Pelvic Exams, Pap Tests, and Oral Contraceptives Make sure your child knows how to prevent pregnancy and protect herself from sexually transmitted diseases. Have your child talk with her doctor about options. And make sure your teenager knows that she doesn’t need to get a pelvic exam or Pap test in order to get birth control pills.

Avoid Sleeping Pills for Children with Insomnia Many children have trouble sleeping. The problem can be so bad that parents and doctors sometimes turn to sleeping pills as a solution. But often, sleeping pills are not the best solution. Sleep drugs aren’t made for children, and there are no prescription drugs approved in the U.S. to treat childhood insomnia.

Antipsychotic Drugs for Children and Adolescents It can be hard to watch your child struggle with mental health issues. The good news is that there are treatments that may help your child. These include counseling and medicines – but you should also be wary of some of those medicines.

Treating ADHD in Children and Teens Our analysis found no evidence that any ADHD drug is more effective than another. Each raises different safety issues, however, and you should discuss them with your doctor. Dosing convenience and the period of time that a medicine is active in your body are critical elements of ADHD treatment.