Meet Henry and Atticus — two toddlers with much in common. Both little boys live near Boston with their parents and are happy, smiley babies … most of the time. But sometimes, they aren’t quite so joyful.
Henry and Atticus have suffered chronic ear infections in infancy, and their conditions persisted to the point at which their pediatricians recommended ear tubes. Their mothers — Erin Jemiola (Henry) and Katie Monroe (Atticus) — share their text messages as they coped with their sons’ ear infections and made the decision to have ear tube surgery.
If you’ve asked yourself these questions or others about ear infections, you aren’t alone.
Concern for ear infection (the medical term is otitis media) is among the most common reasons for a visit to the pediatrician. About half of all children between 6 months and 3 years of age will get at least one ear infection over the course of a year, and many children will experience several ear infections a year.
Most ear infections are treated with antibiotics. In fact, otitis media is the most common diagnosis for which children are prescribed antibiotics. Since most parents will deal with concern for an ear infection at some point, it’s important to separate the facts from the myths about their cause and treatment.
Take the quiz. Which common beliefs about ear infections are true? Which are false?
- Allowing water to drip into an infant’s ear during a bath can cause an ear infection.
- Spending time outside without a hat on a cold day can cause an ear infection.
- Almost all ear infections occur during or soon after a cold.
- Without antibiotics, an ear infection cannot resolve.
- Ear infections are always caused by bacteria.
- Most children outgrow the tendency to get ear infections.
Recently I wrote a blog about how the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks that otherwise healthy children with ear infections should wait a couple of days before starting antibiotics, because many will get better without them.
Now there are two articles in the New England Journal of Medicine (here and here) saying that children with ear infections who are given antibiotics are more likely to get better, and to get better quickly, than those who aren’t.
Your 3-year-old is cranky, has a little fever, and is telling you that his ear hurts. Time to call the doctor and go get a prescription for antibiotics, right?
Well, maybe not.
It turns out the most ear infections get better all by themselves, without antibiotics. We’ve known this for a while. In fact, way back in 2004 the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a clinical practice guideline for the treatment of ear infections, saying that for generally healthy children over the age of 6 months who don’t have severe infections, it’s a good idea to wait 48 to 72 hours before starting antibiotics. By then, most children will be better and won’t need them anymore. …