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Beware Antibiotics for Ear Infections

Here's something to keep in mind the next time your child has an ear infection and you're tempted to ask the doctor for some antibiotics: A new study found that kids who took antibiotics to treat acute ear infections appeared to be more likely to end up having more ear infections down the road.

Ear infections are one of the most common childhood ailments and doctors have long been concerned that antibiotics are overused for the condition because many kids would probably get better without them. The concern is that the overuse of antibiotics is leading to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant infections.

For the new study, Maroeska Rovers of the University Medical Center Utrecht in The Netherlands and colleagues surveyed parents of 168 Dutch children ages six months to two years who had participated in a study evaluating antibiotics for ear infections in 53 general medical practices.

Over the next three and a half years, 47 of the 75 children who had received the antibiotic amoxicillin had suffered at least one recurrence of an ear infection, compared to only 37 out of 86 children who had received a placebo. That translates into the kids who had gotten antibiotics being about 20 percent more likely to suffer a recurrence, the researchers reported recently in the British medical journal known as BMJ.

The researchers say the reason could be that the antibiotics somehow weaken the child's natural immune system response to the infection, making them more vulnerable to infections later on. Another explanation is that the antibiotics may change the makeup of microbes that exist in the child's respiratory system, making them more vulnerable to bugs that make them sick.

In any event, the findings provide more evidence why doctors should try to use antibiotics as sparingly as possible, the researchers say.

By Rob Stein  |  July 16, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health , General Health , Motherhood  
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The problem is, how do you know when the child needs antibiotics and when they are unnecessary. My daughter would go from no symptoms to a burst eardrum in under two days. Once she woke up at midnight crying about ear pain. I gave her pain reliever and we went back to bed. At 6:30 she crawled into bed with me, saying her ear hurt again. I gave her another does of pain reliever and within five minutes she told me that her ear no longer hurt. Fast acting pain reliever? No, a burst eardrum. So I learned that at the first sign of ear pain she needed to head to the doctor's office for antibiotic. Having your eardrum burst repeatedly can cause hearing loss.

We were just at the point of getting tubes when she just all of a sudden stopped getting ear infections. She had a very stressful year at school the year she had a lot of infections--her teacher did not like her and made it quite clear to all the children in the class, who figured out that they could blame my daughter for things they did but didn't want to get in trouble for. Is there any research about the effect of stress on children getting ear infections? Because it was like night and day from one year to the next--the years before and after the ear infection year she had practically no infections, and no burst eardrums. But that one year, her eardrum burst three times. Once she saw the ENT at 3:30 in the afternoon. He said, "she has fluid in her ear, but it is not infected." Fifteen hours later her ear hurt so bad she did not even want me to touch it, and although she went on antibiotics within another three hours, her eardrum burst the next day. But once that school year was over, she has been fine.

Posted by: janedoe5 | July 16, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

I had a Peditrician tell me that although a burst eardrum wasn't desirable, that it would prevent your kid having what they called "glue ear", which is when fluid thickens and sits behind the ear - providing fertile ground for the next infection and dampening hearing.

But, it's very distressing to have your child with goo coming out their ear!

I'd wonder whether antibotic treatment stops the process and leaves that thickened fluid there.

In retrospect what I think the smart parent does is take their kid to the doctor and get the doctor to write an order for tylenol or ibuprofen so school/daycare will agree to administer it.

Then your child will feel better and they can return to daycare or school. A working person only has so many sick days and staying home waiting for an ear problem to clear up will use them up very quickly. Call me a bad Mom, rent paid/food on the table is important too!

Posted by: RedBird27 | July 16, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I had a severe ear infection as a child and as a result, have a 38 percent hearing loss; mostly those frequencies over 3000 Hz.

Whether by antibiotic, or by tubes, one or the other, or both might have saved my hearing. What's certain was just aspirin and hot wash clothes packed on my ears didn't work worth a damn.

Posted by: mhoust | July 16, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Wait a minute. The number of subjects in this study is not large enough to draw any type of statistical conclusions from.

Go back and try this study on 10,000 kids and then lets see if the difference between the groups is significant.

Posted by: boomer5 | July 16, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Every single time a doctor has told me that my child did not need antibiotics I have wound up back at the doctors office three days later with an even sicker child with a massively high fever. My kids are very healthy and generally get sick once per year, but when they do, it is bad.

Posted by: 1Reader | July 16, 2009 8:28 PM | Report abuse

As a hearing aid user and someone with dermatitis, I was plagued by middle ear infections which each time cost me both a doctor's visit for the prescription and the antibiotic ear drops. That was easily $800 per year! No more! A doctor in Europe suggested that I use Gentian Violet tincture once a month and I have not had an infection in over four years. My audiologist smiled when I told him saying that yes, they used to recommend it all the time but now people rush to the doctor's office and use antibiotics.

Posted by: diva4704 | July 20, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

After suffering from severe ear infections at least twice yearly, my doctor recommended I take my then -five-year old son to an ENT specialist. This specialist taught my son how to blow his nose when he had a cold (the precurser of infection). Hold your finger against one nostril, blow thru the open nostril - repeat with the reverse side. My son was instructed to teach his younger brother to do the same. Neither boy ever had another ear infection.

Posted by: heckofa | July 21, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

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