Majority of Ear Infections Don't Require Antibiotics, Study Shows

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Should your doctor reconsider the antibiotics? Credit: Getty Images

Your child is fussy, keeps pulling on his ear and is running a fever -- all signs of an ear infection. Many parents would call the doctor right away for an appointment to get antibiotics. A new study, though, shows that might not be the best course of action.

Researchers in Serbia looked at more than 300 children between the ages of 6 months and 6 years. The kids were divided into two groups: Those with less severe ear infections were placed in a wait-and-see group and those with severe infections were immediately treated. Those in the first set, which represented 76 percent of all the children studied, were given pain killers where necessary, while those in the second were given antibiotics. They were all seen again 72 hours later.

In the wait-and-see group, the ear infections cleared up on their own in 81 percent of the children; 19 percent of the kids needed to start antibiotics. The infections cleared in 63 percent of the children who had been given antibiotics from the get-go, while 37 percent of those children had relapses. A total of 4 percent of all the children surveyed required surgery to resolve the problem.

The authors conclude that a wait-and-see approach is appropriate in more than 60 percent of ear infection cases, and that, with regular follow-ups to avoid undetected complications, the use of antibiotics can be significantly reduced.

Ear infections are the most common reason children are prescribed antibiotics, the study, published in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology says. Increasingly, bacteria is becoming resistant to antibiotics because of overuse, so the list of conditions that require antibiotics should be revised, the authors write.

Related: Research Recommends Giving Newborns a Drop or Two of Cow's Milk

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