Ear infections, conjunctivitis, and bronchitis do not respond to antibiotics. That is the news in three medical articles that disprove the utility of antibiotics for common childhood illnesses.
A landmark study published in Pediatrics has shown that treating ear infections with antibiotics has no benefit when compared to doing nothing (McCormick 2005). In this study 223 children were divided into two groups. One group received antibiotics, the other group received only medicines for symptom relief. The study sought to evaluate several outcomes including (1) parent satisfaction with their child’s care, (2) resolution of symptoms, and (3) failure and recurrence rate. The study was limited to nonsevere ear infections. The severity was determined by parents’ perception of the severity and by examination of the eardrum.
Results of the study were dramatic. Parent satisfaction was equal in the two groups at both 12 days and 30 days after treatment. No difference was observed between the two groups in days of work or school missed, visits to doctors’ offices or emergency rooms, or number of phone calls. There was no difference in the recurrence rate by day 30, and no difference in the clinical examination of the children’s eardrums at day 30.
This study should finally prove that antibiotics are not necessary or beneficial in the management of nonsevere ear infections. Even when no treatment was utilized there was no significant difference in outcome.
Holistic pediatrics, by contrast, employs several forms of treatment that most practitioners would agree do have a significant impact on ear infections. Both homeopathic treatment and Chinese herbal medicine offer valid and safe forms of treatment. One double-blind clinical study did show that homeopathy is more effective than placebo in the treatment of acute ear infections. This was a preliminary study with a sample size of only 75 children, but the demonstration of the effectiveness of homeopathic treatment deserves recognition. There was a statistically significant reduction in symptoms after 24 hours with homeopathic treatment compared to the placebo group, and fewer treatment failures in the homeopathic group after 5 days, 2 weeks, and 6 weeks of follow-up. For example, after 5 days the rate of treatment failure in the homeopathic group was 19.4 percent compared to 30.8 percent in the control group. The authors of that study concluded that a follow-up study with a larger treatment group would be necessary to show statistically significant results.
A British study published in The Lancet investigated the use of antibiotic eye drops in the treatment of conjunctivitis. The study included 326 children aged 6 months to 12 years with conjunctivitis. By the end of one week 83 percent of the placebo group and 86 percent of the antibiotic group had recovered. When the organism causing the infection was found to be bacterial (as opposed to viral) there still was no significant difference between the antibiotic and placebo groups. Only 3 percent of the children given placebo had a recurrence of conjunctivitis within 6 weeks compared to 4 percent of the children treated with antibiotics. The conclusion of these researchers was that acute infective conjunctivitis does not require treatment with an antibiotic.
Another British study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association investigated the effectiveness of antibiotics in 807 patients aged 3 years or older with acute lower respiratory tract infection. Patients with pneumonia or chronic respiratory disease (asthma, cystic fibrosis) were excluded from the study. The clinicians compared the effectiveness of immediate antibiotics, delayed antibiotics, and no antibiotics. Delayed antibiotics was defined as advice to use a course of antibiotics available on request if symptoms were not resolved after 14 days. The antibiotic used was amoxicillin, or erythromycin if patients were allergic to penicillin. Symptoms observed during the course of the study included cough, shortness of breath, sputum production, well-being, sleep disturbance, and activity disturbance. The researchers found no significant difference in these outcome measures in the different groups.
The authors conclude that “No offer or a delayed offer of antibiotics for acute uncomplicated lower respiratory tract infection is acceptable, associated with little difference in symptom resolution, and is likely to considerably reduce antibiotic use and beliefs in the effectiveness of antibiotics.”
Of course holistic pediatric practitioners have many tools for effectively treating conjunctivitis, bronchitis, and ear infections without the use of antibiotics. Herbal treatment, homeopathic medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic, and nutritional interventions can all have beneficial effects on these common illnesses of children. Antibiotic use, by contrast, can result in serious, even life threatening, side effects. Antibiotics can also result in more recurrences of illnesses, weakened immune systems, overgrowth of fungi (candidiasis) and other bacteria, and immediate or chronic allergic reactions. The problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics from overuse in these simple illnesses of children is well-documented.
Instead of antibiotics, seek treatment from a holistic practitioner capable of treating these common illnesses with non-toxic methods that encourage healing and strengthen immune function.
Little P, et al. Information Leaflet and Antibiotic Prescribing Strategies for Acute Lower Respiratory Tract Infection: A Randomized Controlled Trial JAMA. 2005;293:3029-3035.
McCormick DP, et al. Nonsevere acute otitis media: a clinical trial comparing outcomes of watchful waiting versus immediate antibiotic treatment. Pediatrics June 2005; 115(6):1455.
Rose PW, et al. Chloramphenicol treatment for acute infective conjunctivitis in children in primary care: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. The Lancet. 22 June 2005; early online publication.
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