Antibiotics for Middle Ear Infection
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Why It Is Used
Antibiotics often clear up a bacterial ear infection. Amoxicillin is an antibiotic often chosen for treating ear infections. It works well and costs less than other brands.
Doctors sometimes prescribe antibiotics to prevent infections in children who are prone to repeated ear infections (recurrent otitis media). But experts disagree on how helpful this is.
How Well It Works
Antibiotics are effective in most cases of ear infections caused by bacteria. But only 1 out of 5 children with ear infections needs antibiotics to clear an ear infection. In 4 out of 5 children, ear infections clear on their own.1
A child with an ear infection should feel better within 48 hours after taking antibiotics. If your child doesn't feel better, call your doctor. Your child may need a different antibiotic.
Antibiotics will not be effective if the ear infection is caused by a virus. Waiting before starting an antibiotic can save your child from taking medicine that he or she doesn't need.
Some doctors suggest antibiotics for children who don't have symptoms but are prone to repeat ear infections. Studies show that this preventive method doesn't always work.1 Taking antibiotics when they may not be needed can lead to new types of bacteria that can't be killed (antibiotic-resistant bacteria). This means that children may not respond to an antibiotic when they really need it, such as if they get pneumonia.
Antibiotics may help with fluid behind the eardrum that won't go away (chronic otitis media with effusion). But the fluid may return.
Common side effects of antibiotics include:
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Mild diarrhea.
- Another infection, often due to another kind of organism, such as oral thrush or vaginal yeast infections.
Less common and more serious side effects of antibiotics include:
- Skin rashes, hives, or itching.
- Severe allergic reaction (rare).
Use of antibiotics to treat ear infections increases the risk for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
In many countries other than the United States, antibiotics are prescribed much less frequently for ear infections.
If a child with an ear infection appears very ill, is younger than age 2, or is at risk for complications from infection, doctors usually prescribe antibiotics right away. For children ages 2 and older, many doctors suggest that parents wait a day or two before starting antibiotics. If the child starts to get better, no antibiotics are needed. If symptoms don't improve, then you can start giving the antibiotic.
Amoxicillin is often the first choice for treating ear infections because it works well, most children can take it, and it costs less than some other antibiotics.
Experts are looking at how well antibiotics work in clearing ongoing fluid behind the eardrum (chronic effusions). Antibiotics may clear the fluid from behind the eardrum for a short time. Other treatment, such as tube insertion, may help clear fluid from behind the eardrum.
Probiotics may reduce the incidence of recurrent ear infections caused by bacteria infections.
Last Revised: May 9, 2011
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