Q: My baby has an ear infection and the doctor prescribed antibiotics, but I'm reluctant to use them. Do I really have to?

A: Due to the risk of causing resistance (when the antibiotic will no longer treat an infection) if antibiotics are used too often, your pediatrician is not likely to prescribe them unless she feels it is absolutely necessary. When a baby develops an ear infection under the age of 2 years, antibiotics are often prescribed to avoid complications to the infection. But for mild cases or kids older than 2, it's now more common to wait and see if the infection clears on its own (which many do) in two or three days before giving antibiotics. Your pediatrician will guide you through these decisions.

If the ear infection doesn't go away on its own and you leave it untreated, it could cause your child's eardrum to rupture, causing temporary hearing problems. And in very rare cases, some unchecked ear infections could lead to meningitis, a serious infection of the brain and spinal cord.

If your baby is prescribed antibiotics, it's important to follow the dosing instructions exactly as your doctor advised (it's probably between 5 and 10 days). Even if your child starts to feel better quickly, be sure to finish the entire course of antibiotics so that the infection doesn't return. Sometimes a doctor will re-examine a child on the mend and decide to shorten the course of treatment, but only your pediatrician, not you, should make that call.

Copyright 2009 Meredith Corporation.

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