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Safety-Net Antibiotics for Ear Infections


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May 8, 2002 -- Your baby is screaming in pain from an ear infection, yet your baby's doctor still won't prescribe antibiotics. Sound familiar? Next time you find yourself in this situation, maybe a safety-net prescription is what you need.

Most ear infections improve without antibiotics. So many pediatricians find themselves stuck between what they and the parents feel is best for the child. Unnecessarily prescribing antibiotics can lead to drug resistance, which can make those pesky ear infections even more difficult to treat.

But researchers from the Cincinnati Pediatric Research Group (CPRG) have developed a plan that they think could help solve the dilemma of how to treat ear infections. First developed by English researchers, a safety-net prescription is given to the parent to fill only if symptoms either increase or do not resolve after 48 hours.

They presented their findings May 6 in Baltimore, Md., at a meeting of pediatric medicine specialists.

"Parents find a safety-net prescription acceptable in the treatment of ... [ear infections] if pain control medication is also prescribed," says lead researcher Robert Siegel, MD, medical director of CPRG, in a news release.

The researchers found that when given a safety-net prescription, only 31% of the parents filled them. Pain medication, such as Tylenol, ibuprofen or auralgan eardrops, was all that was needed for most children.

The children were between 1 and 12 years old and were not included in the study if they had a temperature higher than 101.5 F, had had an ear infection in the previous three months, had signs of another bacterial infection, or appeared very ill.

"Parents were overwhelmingly willing to treat [ear infections] with pain medication," says Siegel. "Nearly 80% reported that the pain medication was effective, and 63% reported that they would be willing to treat future [ear infections] without antibiotics and with pain medication alone."

Another added benefit to leaving the office with a prescription in hand is that it saves moms another trip to the doctor's office in the event that the child's ear infection does not improve within a few days. That should make both moms and doctors happy.

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