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When it comes to kids ear infection, more antibiotic better than less

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers put to test best practice when it comes to treating kids' ear infections. What researchers found is that giving too short a course of antibiotics can be inffective. What's the best way to help your child when they are crying and tugging at their ears?


Researchers publishing in the New England Journal of Medicine also found longer time taking antibiotics did not cause any side effects or antibiotic resistance among children age 6 to 23 months. Impetus for the study comes from growing concern about so called-super bugs that can evade treatment with antibiotics. Additionally, there has been less focus on develolping new antibiotics.

The investigation looked at children with middle ear infection that is common and painful. Half of 520 kids in the study randomly received antibiotics for 5 days, followed by 5 days of placebo and the other group was treated for ten days.

Alejandro Hoberman, MD, from the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pennsylvania was surprised that 34 percent of kids given antibiotic for bacterial ear infection for a shorter period of time ended up needing another round of treatment.

"I also expected that if you used an antibiotic for a shorter period of time, there would be fewer adverse events, Hoberman said in a news release.

What else parents should know

Antibiotics are only needed if your child has a bacterial ear infection. Not all ear pain is caused by bacteria - some are the result of viruses.

Syptoms can be mild to severe. Sometimes your baby might tug on their ears, show general "fussiness". Ear infection in kids' can also be extremely painful, leading to loud crying; loss of appetite and fever.

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If your doctor does prescribe an antibiotic, it's important to make sure your child takes all of the medication - especially given the new finding.

Stopping antibiotics too soon, even if it seems your child is improved, could mean a worse infection could recur. Repeared infection or lack of treatment can cause the ear drum to burst.

If your child develops a rash or diarrhea you should call the pediatrician for advice.

Other treatment include giving pain medication recommended by the pediatrician and antihistamines to reduce swelling inside the ear that is the cause of pain.

Why do children develop ear infections more often than adults?

Your child's immunity is not yet fully developed, making it difficult for the body to fight infection at an early age. The tubes in the ear are also smaller, meaning they don't drain well when your child gets a cold or sinus infection.

If your child doesn't feel better within a few days of treatment for ear infection you will want to call the doctor. It takes several weeks for an infection to completely clear up. Frequent ear infections may require that a tube be placed in the ear, which is a temporary measure to help your child. The tubes fall out on their own and are inserted using a minor surgical procedure.

How to avoid ear infections

Tips from the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), a department of the National Institutes of Health include:

  • Never putting your child to bed with a bottle
  • Avoidance of cigarette smoke
  • Keeping your child away from other sick children
  • Flu vaccine
  • Good handwashing in the home to prevent spread of infection