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The Ear Infection Controversy

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Should your child take antibiotics for an ear infection?

Dr. Nina Shapiro: Millions of children visit the doctor each year for an ear infection. This translates to even more millions of antibiotics being prescribed for these infections. Many parents are rightly concerned about all of these antibiotics. While they are oftentimes necessary and beneficial, we have seen the negative effects of antibiotic overuse.

child getting ear examined

Most ear infections are caused by viruses similar to the cold virus, and may improve after a day or two of pain control with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Antibiotics attack bacteria, not viruses. As is the case with a cold, ear infections sometimes just need to run their course. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that, in some situations, measures to control pain should be instituted before going straight to antibiotics. Using too many antibiotics on a global level has led to "stronger, resistant" bacteria surviving. The increased survival of these "resistant" bacteria has led to difficulty in treating bacterial infections with antibiotics when we really need them. If we stop using antibiotics for every viral infection, the surge of "resistant" bacteria will subside.

How many ear infections, be they viral or bacterial, are too many? Many kids get up to three ear infections each year, and they usually clear within a few days, with or without antibiotics.

There are several scenarios where your child may need further evaluation:

• Four to six ear infections in a 12-month period;
• An ear infection where the fluid behind the eardrum doesn't go away after three months;
• An ear infection where your child has problems hearing for more than three months;
Ear infections associated with high fevers, seizures, or ruptured eardrums;
Ear infections that require several rounds of antibiotics before they go away.

These issues may warrant evaluation by an ear specialist. In some cases, ear tubes are recommended. These tiny tubes (each about 1 millimeter in diameter) prevent fluid from building up behind the eardrum, help the ear to drain if your child gets a cold, and improve hearing caused by a prolonged ear infection. While these tubes are by no means a cure-all for every child with ear infections, they can make a difference if ear infections have become a chronic problem.

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158 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kristen May 25, 2009, 10:31 AM

A lot of ear infections are also caused by unknown food allergies. We took milk out of both of our kids diets and they never had another ear infection or ecezema again.

Angie May 25, 2009, 11:38 AM

Garlic drops. I would have thought putting garlic drops in my now 22 month old’s ears was crazy but after one bad ear infection and another one on it’s way I didn’t want to do antibiotics again so looked into a more natural approach. Honestly don’t diss it until you try it. During teething was the time the most ear infections happened and when I would notice him tugging etc. I would start the drops. I also do the drops when my son starts to get a cold to try and ward off the ear infections before they start. Have had inflamed ear drums but with the garlic drops I haven’t had to have him get on antibiotics again. Hope this helps someone.

erica May 25, 2009, 3:07 PM

Garlic Drops??Is that Garlic Oil??

mercaties May 25, 2009, 6:15 PM

My son is will be two in a few days. From the time he was two months to the time he turned one he did not go more than two months at a time without an ear infection. His Dr said that because of the constant antibiotics he was starting to build up such a tolerance to them that they weren’t working so we had to have tubes put in but it’s been a year now and he hasn’t had one single ear infection.

VeganGoddess May 26, 2009, 5:10 AM

Kristen is 100% correct. As an herbalist and health consultant, I have taken many children off of dairy products and their problems stop almost immediately. Dairy Products (or ‘cow puss’ as I affectionately call it)is the culprit and when you get them off of it and switch the child to rice milk they don’t need the tubes or antibiotics because the CAUSE of the problem has been eliminated.

angie May 26, 2009, 9:12 AM

Yes Erica the drops are garlic oil but not only garlic oil- some other natural ingredients- your local health food store would know what you are talking about if you just ask for garlic drops-

erica May 26, 2009, 12:10 PM

Thanx Angie..My son gets anout 2 ear infection a year..this will help us out alot

Anonymous May 27, 2009, 1:19 AM

Get tubes put in.

mercaties May 27, 2009, 8:59 PM

My son was two months when he started getting ear infections he wasn’t on cows milk. Sorry, I don’t buy your theory about cows milk causing ear infections vegan mom. This is only true in children that have an allergy to milk.

Christine June 16, 2009, 11:53 AM

My daughter is 2-1/2 and she has had repeated ear infections. She is allergic to milk and has been off of all dairy since she was 9 months old. She still gets repeated ear infections. So, no, it can’t be cow’s milk causing her problems. We’re consulting with a new pediatrician to probably get tubes put in. She’s getting ear infections at the rate of 1 every month, and she is miserable for a week.

Jenn June 23, 2010, 8:45 PM

I warn that eliminating foods from the diet is not a cure all. My 13month old daughter has never had dairy (we suspected a milk allergy back when I was breastfeeding her). She also doesn’t eat wheat or nuts or eggs or soy or fish… just to be sure. She takes a daily probiotic, and still we get the infections with any and every cold or airplane ride or going into the mountains or actually just going outside while someone down the street is mowing the lawn. Scheduled for tubes next month.

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