Ear Infections in Children

What is an ear infection?

Should parents give their children antibiotics ?

Ear infections can be a recurring problem. Around 50 per cent of children will have at least three bouts of acute otitis media - inflammation of the middle ear - in their first three years.

Most children have grown out of ear infections by the age of seven, but older children can be affected.




Why are young children especially prone to ear infections?

Babies have some protection against infections in the first few weeks of life thanks to the antibodies that cross the placenta before birth. This natural immunity is boosted by breastfeeding. But these antibodies begin to wane after six months, leaving a baby more susceptible to infections.

Children’s Eustachian tubes, which connect the ears to the back of the nose and help to equalise pressure, are less effective than in adults. They are shorter and more horizontal which lets viruses and bacteria pass from the nose to the ears easier.

In children, the most common is an infection of the middle ear (otitis media). This is often accompanied by an illness like a cold.

Children can’t really avoid the viruses and bacteria that cause ear infections. The infections sometimes start off as a cold and spread to the ears.

Children who have a lot of contact with other children, like those who go to nursery, are more prone to ear infections because they‘re likely to be exposed to more viruses and bacteria. Children who are exposed to passive smoking are more likely to get ear infections.


What are the signs of an ear infection?

The symptoms are a raised temperature, general irritability and discharge from the ear. This can also be associated with a blocked feeling in the ear or hearing loss. 



Using antibiotics to treat ear infections in children is only slightly more effective than offering no treatment at all, said a study published Tuesday.

 Infections of the middle ear are the most common childhood infection for which antibiotics are prescribed, said the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A total of 2.8 billion dollars is spent every year on medicines for treating such ear infections, known as acute otitis media (AOM).

Giving young children these drugs, however, only provides minimal benefits.

"Our findings reinforce the existing knowledge that the best antibiotic treatment for common childhood ear infections may be no antibiotic treatment at all," said lead author of the study Tumaini Coker.

"Of 100 average-risk children with AOM, approximately 80 would get better within about three days without antibiotics," the study said.

If all 100 were given an antibiotic, 92 would "likely improve," but other painful side effects would pop up, like a rash in three to 10 of those children and diarrhea in five to 10 of them, it said.

"Clinicians need to weigh these risks (including possible long-term effects on antibiotic resistance) and benefits before prescribing immediate antibiotics for uncomplicated AOM," the study authors said.

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