What to Do About Ear Infections
Why does an ear infection get better on its own?
"Essentially it is a self-limited illness," explains Matz. "It is something that came to be treated with antibiotics over the last 30-40 years, partly because there is a risk of complications. ... It just became the standard for a long time and no one thought about it. A fair amount of research, most of it from Europe, looked at it again and said actually most of these kids get better on their own."
Norman Carvalho, MD, tells WebMD that the valuable thing about the study is it addresses the issue of parents who are reluctant to accept no treatment for their child's ear infection. Carvalho, a staff pediatrician at Children's Health Care of Atlanta, was not involved in the study.
The high parental satisfaction with the eardrop treatment is important. "Parents want to walk away with a prescription in their hands," says Carvalho. "The thing is, if parents didn't want something they wouldn't come in really, because often it involves a wait in the waiting room. And if they come away with nothing they think, 'What did I come here for?'"
Pediatric ear, nose, and throat specialist Steven Handler, MD, agrees. "The U.S. has developed a culture of people who, when they go to the doctor's office, demand an antibiotic. Doctors who don't give an antibiotic are sometimes made to feel that they haven't done anything, but sometimes making the diagnosis and giving them information even though they don't need an antibiotic is very helpful," says Handler.
"We advocate, in some of the cases, that if the ears don't look that badly infected, and the kid is not that symptomatic, just him give Tylenol or Motrin," he says, noting that the pain-reliever will help the child handle the pain. Handler is associate director of pediatric otolaryngology at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and a professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia.
But all three doctors agree there are times when a child does need an antibiotic to battle an ear infection.