Childhood ear infections have risen 300 percent over the last 20
years and acute middle ear infections (otitis media) are the most
frequent reason for children under the age of six to see a
physician. In 1999, in the USA alone there were more than 30
million cases of acute middle ear infections.
What are ear infections?
Acute otitis media is the term used to describe an infection
involving the middle ear that starts rather suddenly. Typical
symptoms are pain, fever, irritability and hearing loss. This type
of infection is usually preceded by a cold. Inflammation occurs
around the tube that connects the middle ear to the back of the
nose and bacteria can enter the middle ear.
Treatment of acute ear infections
Most bacterial ear infections require antibiotic treatment
because, if left untreated, the bacterial disease may cause
deafness and lead to more serious infections, such as meningitis.
Treatment involves an antibiotic (frequently amoxicillin) given by
mouth for seven to ten days. If the pain and fever are still
present after 72 hours, the medication is usually changed.
However, children do not always complete their full course of
antibiotic therapy. Two common reasons for this are a bad reaction
to the medication and stopping therapy when the child feels
better. When the full course of antibiotics is not absorbed the
bacteria flourish again. An incomplete course of antibiotics
allows the bacteria to be exposed to low levels of antibiotics
that do not kill them, but could encourage the development of
resistant organisms. This can ultimately lead to more infections,
more visits to the doctor's office, and an increase in antibiotic