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 right away if:
- Your child has an ear infection and appears very ill.
- Your child is younger than 2.
- Your child is at risk for Reference 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 (Reference antibiotic-resistant bacteria Opens New Window). 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.
Other medicines that can treat symptoms of ear infection include:
- Reference Acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol) and Reference nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (for example, Advil, Aleve, and Motrin), for pain and fever. Follow all instructions on the label. If you give medicine to your baby, follow your doctor's advice about what amount to give. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because of its link to Reference Reye syndrome Opens New Window, a serious illness.
- Pain medicines such as codeine and some eardrops, which help with severe earache. But do not use eardrops if the eardrum is Reference ruptured Opens New Window. For more information, see Reference the safest way to insert eardrops Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window.
- Sometimes corticosteroids are given with antibiotics to get rid of fluid behind the eardrum. Steroid medicines are not a good choice for treating ear infections. Do not use them if a child has been around someone with chickenpox within the last 3 weeks.
Most studies find that decongestants, antihistamines, and other nonprescription cold remedies usually don't help prevent or treat ear infections or fluid behind the eardrum. Antihistamines that may make your child sleepy can thicken fluids and may actually make your child feel worse. Check with the doctor before giving these medicines to your child. Experts say not to give decongestants to children younger than 2 years.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference September 10, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Reference Charles M. Myer, III, MD - Otolaryngology