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Ear Infections: Antibiotics Not Necessary

by Randall Neustaedter OMD

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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.

To view articles about the holistic treatment of ear infections go to the HPA website articles section at www.hpakids.org.

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.

Jacobs J, et al. Homeopathic treatment of acute otitis media in children: a preliminary randomized placebo-controlled trial. Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal Feb 2001; 20(2):177.

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