Tips For Ear Infections

Antibiotics Are Not Always the Answer

About 60 percent of ear infections are believed to be bacterial; the other 40 percent are sparked by viruses and can't be cured by antibiotics. (Unfortunately, there's no way for your doc to tell from looking in your child's ear whether an infection is viral or bacterial.) In 2004, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) jointly issued guidelines for treating acute ear infections in kids. The main message to doctors: Hand out fewer unnecessary prescriptions for antibiotics, and give the body's immune system a chance -- about two to three days -- to fight off the infection on its own. Studies have shown that approximately 80 percent of middle-ear infections in children go away without antibiotics in a week or so, and about 60 percent of kids have fewer symptoms after 24 hours, whether they take antibiotics or not. "Watchful waiting" is appropriate for a healthy child between 6 months and 2 years of age when her symptoms aren't severe (her fever is less than 102.2?F and she doesn't seem to be in a lot of pain) and her doctor isn't sure after looking in her ear that there's an infection. It's also appropriate for kids over 2 without severe symptoms. During the waiting period, your pediatrician will probably suggest a pain reliever such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or anesthetic ear drops. If your child's symptoms don't improve, contact the doctor.

Why not just take antibiotics ASAP? In the past, doctors overprescribed these drugs, experts say, giving them to kids whose symptoms were mild, who didn't have a clear-cut diagnosis, or whose infection was likely viral. With children everywhere slurping down the "pink stuff," a scary problem began to arise: Some bacteria became resistant to the antibiotics. These strains can no longer be defeated by the traditional go-to remedies, which forces doctors to search for other alternatives. In Rochester, New York, a small group of kids had ear infections that didn't respond to any drug that's used to fight them in children, and doctors had to treat the bacteria (called the 19A strain) with a drug that was only approved for adults. The AAP/AAFP guidelines urge doctors to prescribe antibiotics more prudently to prevent resistant bacteria from spreading widely and putting all children at risk.

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