Study: Leave Ear Infections Alone

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ear-infectionsMore than 75 percent of kids before the age of 5 have an ear infection, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Ear infections have routinely been treated with antibiotics, but now, new research suggests the best medicine may be no medicine at all.

CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton said on “The Early Show” there’s substantial evidence suggesting that many children with ear infections will get better without antibiotics and with no ill effects.

“It requires a lot of patience on the part of both the doctor and the parents to let it run its course. And most ear infections are caused by viruses, which don’t get treated with antibiotics,” she said. “But most will get better on their own.”

Ashton said the American Academy of Pediatrics is about to update its guidelines, but essentially the current guidelines say that unless the child is very young or very sick, a doctor should employ “watchful waiting” — monitoring the child’s health. As a backup, the doctor might prescribe a safety net antibiotic prescription or SNAP to be filled only if the child has not improved within 48 to 72 hours. A recent study in the British Medical Journal has shown that treating with antibiotics can actually increase the chances of relapse and contrary to popular wisdom; about 80 percent of infections clear up without antibiotics.

However, Ashton said some children should still get antibiotics.

The current guidelines include children who:
• Are under age 2
• Appear seriously ill with fever of 102F or higher
• Have fluid dripping from the ears
• Have a double ear infection.

Ashton added there are some side effects to antibiotics use in kids. In about 10 to 20 percent of children, Ashton said, antibiotics can cause upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea. Less frequently, they can cause rashes. The most serious side effect, she said, is antibiotic resistance.

“This will make the next bug tougher to treat,” she said. “The next time your doctor goes to prescribe amoxicillin, the most commonly used for kids, it might not work.”

According to new research — despite all the science-based evidence — doctors still prescribe antibiotics to kids they suspect with ear infections 84 percent of the time. However, Ashton said doctors and parents are slowly coming around to the fact that antibiotics may not be the best medicine.

“Pediatricians are now focusing on pain relief,” Ashton said. “Children screaming in pain will not get relief from an antibiotic in the first 24 hours. They should be given ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), and sometimes prescription ear drops can ease the pain.”

{CBSNews/Noam Newscenter}


  1. This is the biggest garbage I have ever heard. I am expert with dealing with kids’ ear infections as mine have had a lot of them. k’ha.

    Why let a child with an infected anything suffer? Infection means it needs treatment. They cry, have fever, are in pain, have symptoms of cold, cough. Infants often throw up as with flu symptoms. “LET IT RUN ITS COURSE???” oh please. give me a break and dont insult our intelligence. please.

  2. NO WAY. I have a childhood friend who had untreated chronic ear infections, and now she has permanent hearing loss in one ear and partial hearing loss in the other ear that has been saved only through several surgeries.

    This is only one study and who knows what the political motivations of the sponsors are. I can’t imagine letting my children suffer – they screamed in pain when they had ear infections. Once as an adult I had an ear infection, and I came to understand why children SCREAM when they have them – they are horrifically painful with no relief in sight until the antibiotics kick in!

  3. I also have a friend who had an untreated ear infection as a child and from that lost total hearing in one ear and 60% loss in the other ear.

  4. btw, if your kid gets ear infections alot try taking them off milk, I’ve seen it work over and over again. there is also alot of natural ways to soothe it before it becomes chronic. No one is saying you should be irresponsible, if your child has high fever or a double ear infection etc.. put them on antibiotics. It’s a known fact that doctors misdiagnose ear infections alot of the time.


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