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Ear infections in children: antibiotics can wait

Published on October 21, 2014 at 14:41 / Updated on July 26, 2019 at 12:58

Ear infections (acute otitis media) are the primary cause of antibiotic prescriptions in children. However, many studies show that these prescriptions are often unnecessary in the case of ear infections, because the majority of children heal rapidly, with or without antibiotics. Many European and North-American medical organizations therefore recommend closely monitoring your child for two days while relieving his pain, before starting, if need be, the antibiotic treatment. Overusing antibiotics can lead to the appearance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and furthermore, can expose children to undesirable reactions such as vomiting, diarrhoea and in rare cases, allergic reactions.

An American study reinforces the approach recommended by the medical organizations: the waiting approach, meaning, waiting before filling a prescription for antibiotics. Parents of 238 children between the ages of six month and twelve years suffering from ear infections were randomly divided into two groups: half were asked to wait 48 hours before going to the pharmacy to fill the prescription, if it was still required, while the others were asked to fill the prescription immediately upon leaving the emergency room. All the small patients received the anti-inflammatory ibuprofen and analgesic drops.

The results are very interesting: among the parents who were asked to wait, two-thirds never even had to fill their child’s prescription. Regardless of taking antibiotics or not, the children in both groups healed at the same rate.

Unless the child is very young, gravely ill or suffers from other health-related problems, the waiting approach seems a sensible option for the treatment of ear infections in children. In addition, a more enlightened use of antibiotics is necessary to help delay the appearance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria called “superbacteria”, while reducing health costs.

Delaying the antibiotic treatment for 48 hours does not mean you do nothing! It is essential to treat your child’s pain to increase his level of comfort by administering an analgesic and by applying heat to the affected ear. If after 48 hours the child still has a fever, is irritable, sleepy or is still in pain, it is generally recommended to start the antibiotic treatment. You must never hesitate to ask your pharmacist about the appropriate type of medicine to relieve your child’s pain and fever. The recommended doses on medicine boxes are adapted to a child of average weight and size for his age. It is preferable to always calculate the dose according to the weight of a child to prevent him from taking too low a dose, which could prove inefficient, or too high a dose, which could potentially expose him to undesirable effects.

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