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Ear Drops, Antibiotics in Dead Heat

Drugs, drops fixed child earache about as fast

FRIDAY, May 11 (HealthScout) -- If your child's got an earache, treatment with just pain-relieving ear drops will work about as fast as antibiotics, a new study shows.

"Most kids with ear infections don't need antibiotics. What we found was the children who received ear drops got better almost as fast as those on antibiotics," says study author, Dr. Paul Matz, a research fellow in the department of pediatrics at the Brown Medical School in Providence, R.I.

That doesn't mean ear drops can cure the infection. "They just mask the symptoms and make the child feel better while the infection clears on its own," says Dr. John McClay, a pediatric otolaryngologist at Children's Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.

McClay says studies have shown that about 80 percent of all ear infections clear up on their own without any drugs, though pain drops can help treat symptoms of the infection.

Knowing that most ear infections get better simply with time, Matz and his colleagues wanted to see if parents would accept an alternative treatment, such as ear drops, as readily as antibiotic therapy.

They studied 88 children, aged 2 to 18. The children, whose average age was 5, were from mostly urban areas and about 45 percent were Hispanic.

Forty-two children received the pain drops, called Auralgan, and 46 received an oral antibiotic. Parents of children given the drops were told to bring them back for antibiotics if they still had pain after 48 hours. The researchers saw the children again two to seven days later, and the parents were asked if they were satisfied with the treatment.

Ninety-five percent of the kids on antibiotics got better, as did 89 percent of those on ear drops. The parents accepted the alternative treatment as well as antibiotic therapy, the study says.

The findings were presented last month at the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in Boston.

Matz says reducing use of antibiotics is important whenever possible because of the development of resistant bacteria. "The bacteria that cause ear infections cause other infections. An ear infection is a relatively mild infection, but we don't want a child to come down with meningitis [later in his life], and find it's resistant," he says.

Wyeth-Ayerst makes Auralgan.

What To Do

Never push your child's doctor to give you a prescription they might not need.

Antibiotics are appropriate in some cases, however, and not treating these infections properly could lead to serious complications, says McClay.

If a child has symptoms, like a fever over 101°F, irritability and sleeplessness, McClay says a doctor needs to evaluate the child to see if the eardrum is bulging because of fluid or pus. If there's just a buildup of fluid, McClay says it's OK to treat the symptoms and have the doctor recheck the child in 24 to 48 hours. But, "when it's a bulging, infected-looking ear drum, then I don't want to wait to prescribe antibiotics," says McClay.

To read more about ear infections, go to KidsHealth. For more information on antibiotic use in ear infections, see this article from Dr. Greene.

Or, read these HealthScout articles on children's ear infections.

SOURCES: Interviews with Paul Matz, M.D., research fellow, department of Pediatrics, Brown Medical School, Providence, R.I.; John McClay, M.D., pediatric otolaryngologist Children's Medical Center, Dallas, Texas; April 30, 2001 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in Boston
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