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Analysis: antibiotics hardly a good treatment for ear infections

by nickj on November 17, 2010

Researchers with the Southern California Evidence-Based Practice Center delivered a new analysis Wednesday which found that while antibiotics can help cure ear infections in children, the side effects often outweigh the benefits.

"Our findings reinforce the existing knowledge that the best antibiotic treatment for common childhood ear infections may be no antibiotic treatment at all," said lead researcher Dr. Tumaini R. Coker.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, additionally stressed the importance of an accurate diagnosis and concluded that there is no advantage to using name-brand antibiotics over the generic, over-the-counter variety.

According to the findings, early-prescribed antibiotics can speed up the recovery process but may put children at risk for side effects such as rash or diarrhea. An average of 80 percent of children would recover without any use of antibiotics.

"If you have 100 healthy children with an acute ear infection, about 80 would get better with just over-the-counter pain and fever relief – but if you treated all 100 of those kids with antibiotics, you would quickly cure 92 of them," the study's lead author, Dr. Tumaini Coker, told BusinessWeek.com. "But, the number of children who would benefit is similar to the number of children who would experience side effects like diarrhea and rash."

The study delivered a new analysis based on previous research from the past 11 years in an effort to help the American Academy of Pediatrics update its guidelines for treatment and diagnosis.

Ear infections are the top cause for prescribing antibiotics to children in the U.S. and cost the health care system $2.8 billion a year. Researchers claim that clinicians will have to weigh the outcomes of prescribing antibiotics, and suggested that turning to generic brands like amoxicillin could save a significant amount of money.

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