Most Ear Infections Clear Up Without Antibiotics

A newly released report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) suggests that children may not always need antibiotics to treat a middle ear infection (otitis media).

Researchers from the Southern California/RAND Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC) found some interesting findings, including:

  • Nearly two-thirds of children with uncomplicated ear infections recover from pain and fever within 24 hours of diagnosis without antibiotic treatment

  • Over 80% recover within 1 to 7 days.

  • Approximately 93% of children treated with antibiotics recover within 1 to 7 days.

  • Researchers also found that the newer and more costly antibiotics, such as cefaclor, cefixime, azithromycin, or clarithromycin, provided no additional benefit to children than amoxicillin.

  • Amoxicillin caused fewer side effects than the other antibiotics as well.

  • The EPC also found no evidence that short-duration (5 days or less) versus long-duration therapy (7-10 days) made a difference in the clinical outcome for children over 2 years of age.

  • More than 5 million cases of acute ear infections occur annually, costing about $3 billion.

The report points out that in other countries otitis media is not always treated with drugs at the first sign of infection. Rather, in children over the age of 2 years, the norm is to watch and see how the infection progresses over the course of a few days.

The report notes that in the Netherlands the rate of bacterial resistance is about 1%, compared with the US average of around 25%.

The Summary of the findings of this study, entitled Management of Acute Otitis Media Summary, Evidence Report/Technology Assessment 15, is available by calling the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse at 1-800-358-9295.

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD, August 9, 2000

Dr. Mercola's Comments:


The treatment of ear infections in this country is a HUGE problem. Most of the chronically sick children I see were given antibiotics frequently for recurrent ear infections. The sad tragedy is that nearly all of these are preventable by simply changing the diet. Avoiding milk and dairy is the single largest issue, but clearly other food allergens contribute (CLICK HERE for diet info).

Even with the best diets though a child may get an infection. This does not mean that the child needs antibiotics. The simple solution is to put a few drops of breast milk in the ear canal every few hours. This usually works to clear up the infection within 24-48 hours and is far safer, less expensive and a better solution than putting the child on antibiotics. If the mother is not breastfeeding, it is likely she knows someone who is. All that is required for the treatment is about one half ounce of breast milk, so obtaining that from a friend will work just as well. If you know someone who has a child with ear infections PLEASE forward them this article. You may make a huge impact on the future health of that child.

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