I cringed when I read the headline about the use of antibiotics in children dropping pretty sharply, because my daughter had just finished taking a course of medication that I wasn’t sure she needed. This was a kid who, though happily playing, had had a troublesome cough for weeks. My husband and I were worried, and after multiple doctor visits, when the doctor suggested antibiotics, I didn’t argue. Now, the kid is still playing, and the cough is still there. We were back at the doctor again yesterday, and the consensus was to watch and wait to see what’s going on.
We parents are doing a better job of not demanding antibiotics for every childhood illness, according to the study in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association, which found that antibiotic prescriptions for upper respiratory infections (including ear infections) dropped 36 percent from 1995 to 2006 in children under age 5. In recent years, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical societies have put a big effort into trying to convince parents that antibiotics often don’t help with children’s colds and ear infections, particularly the very common otitis media with effusion.
But as recently as 2000, just 7 percent of parents surveyed were comfortable with the official recommendation that pain relievers alone be used to treat the first few days of an ear infection. They worried that the child might not get better and might have to go to the doctor again—no small concern, since ear infections in young children are the No. 1 cause of doctor visits. But more than half the parents were also worried about antibiotics losing effectiveness if used too often. That’s a very big worry, and the reason the feds and doctors are trying to educate parents about the risks of antibiotic resistance.
In 2004, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians adopted new guidelines for treating ear infections in children, urging doctors to try treating acute ear infections with two to three days of pain relief before going for the amoxicillin. That appears to be working, according to this new JAMA study. I hated giving my child antibiotics for ear infections when she was a baby, particularly since that inevitably meant diarrhea and diaper rash as well. But I don’t know if I’d be tough enough to follow the new guidelines if I had a crying child on my hands. The CDC recommends that parents take children to the doctor if the child has:
- A temperature higher than 100.4° F
- Discharge of blood or pus from the ears
- Been diagnosed with an ear infection and symptoms do not improve, or worsen
Are you taking your children to the doctor less often for ear infections and upper respiratory infections? And how do you deal with the worries, either that your child won’t get better or that the antibiotics won’t work as well the next time?