Many ear infections clear up without antibiotics

Many children with ear infections are now being sent home from the doctor’s office without a prescription for antibiotics. “Antibiotics are not necessarily the answer,” said Dr. Ellen Friedman, professor of otorhinolaryngology and pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “In many cases, the ear infection clears up on its own.” While the traditional treatment for ear infections has been antibiotics, Friedman said studies have shown that many ear infections improve without any treatment and with no complications. “Decreasing a child’s exposure to antibiotics is important because of the threat of antibiotic resistance caused by overexposure,” said Friedman, also chief of pediatric otolaryngology at Texas Children’s Hospital. “And with many ear infections, we’re finding that a pain reliever to control fever and pain is all that’s needed.” Ear infections are a common problem in infants and young children. In most cases, they stop occurring as a child gets older, though sometimes it’s necessary to provide relief with a surgical procedure to insert ear tubes to drain fluid. It’s the fluid left after an ear infection that can cause the most problems, Friedman said. “The fluid that stays in the ear after an ear infection can affect hearing, language, learning, concentration and behavior,” she said. “And there is often no fever or pain with fluid, making it difficult for the parent to know the fluid is there.” Friedman recommends that a child who has been diagnosed with an ear infection be seen again by a doctor six to eight weeks after the diagnosis to determine that all the fluid is gone. “It’s important to get rechecked, not right away, but after several weeks because it sometimes takes that long for the fluid to go away,” she said.

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