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Ear Infections - Medications

Antibiotics can treat ear infections caused by bacteria. But most children with ear infections get better without them. If the care you give at home relieves pain and the symptoms are getting better after a few days, you may not need antibiotics.

Your doctor will likely give antibiotics if:1

  • Your child has an ear infection and appears very ill.
  • Your child is younger than 2 and has an infection in both ears or has more than mild pain or fever.
  • Your child is at risk for complications from the infection.

For children ages 2 and older, many doctors wait for a few days to see if the ear infection will get better on its own. When doctors do prescribe antibiotics, they most often use amoxicillin, because it works well and costs less than other brands.

When your child takes antibiotics for an ear infection, it is very important to take all of the medicine as directed, even if your child feels better. Do not use leftover antibiotics to treat another illness. Misuse of antibiotics can lead to drug-resistant bacteria.

Deciding about antibiotics

Some doctors prefer to treat all ear infections with antibiotics, because it's hard to tell which ear infections will clear up on their own. Some things to consider before your child takes antibiotics include:

  • Risk for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The greatest problem with using antibiotics to treat ear infections is the possibility of creating bacteria that can't be killed by the usual antibiotics (antibiotic-resistant bacteria). Use antibiotics only when they're needed.
  • Side effects of antibiotics. Mild side effects, such as diarrhea and rash, from taking antibiotics are common. Severe side effects are rare.
  • Cost. Most antibiotics are expensive. You may want to weigh the cost against the fact that most ear infections clear up without treatment.

Antibiotics have only minimal benefits in reducing pain and fever.

If your child still has symptoms (fever and earache) longer than 48 hours after starting an antibiotic, a different antibiotic may work better. Call your doctor if your child isn't feeling better after 2 days of antibiotic treatment.

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