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Ear Infection Health Center

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Antibiotics for Middle Ear Infection

Examples

Generic NameBrand Name
amoxicillin
azithromycinZithromax
cefdinir
ceftriaxoneRocephin
cefuroximeCeftin
clarithromycinBiaxin

How It Works

Antibiotics kill bacteria.

Most antibiotics are given in pill or liquid form.

Why It Is Used

Antibiotics often clear up a bacterial ear infection. Amoxicillin is an antibiotic often chosen for treating ear infections. It works well and costs less than other brands.

Doctors sometimes prescribe antibiotics to prevent infections in children who are prone to repeated ear infections (recurrent otitis media). But experts disagree on how helpful this is.

How Well It Works

Antibiotics are effective in most cases of ear infections caused by bacteria. But only 1 out of 5 children with ear infections needs antibiotics to clear an ear infection. In 4 out of 5 children, ear infections clear on their own.1

A child with an ear infection should feel better within 48 hours after taking antibiotics. If your child doesn't feel better, call your doctor. Your child may need a different antibiotic.

Some doctors suggest antibiotics for children who don't have symptoms but are prone to repeat ear infections. Studies show that this preventive method doesn't always work.1 Taking antibiotics when they may not be needed can lead to new types of bacteria that can't be killed (antibiotic-resistant bacteria). This means that children may not respond to an antibiotic when they really need it, such as if they get pneumonia.

Antibiotics may help with fluid behind the eardrum that won't go away (chronic otitis media with effusion). But the fluid may return.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call911or other emergency services right away if you have:

Call your doctor if you have:

Common side effects of this medicine include:

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Antibiotics will not be effective if the ear infection is caused by a virus. Waiting before starting an antibiotic can keep your child from taking medicine that he or she doesn't need.

Use of antibiotics to treat ear infections increases the risk for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

Citations

  1. Bradley-Stevenson C, et al. (2007). AOM in children (acute), search date January 2007. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSusan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical ReviewerCharles M. Myer, III, MD - Otolaryngology
Last RevisedSeptember 10, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 10, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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