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UTMB Researchers Treat Ear Infections Without Antibiotics

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston say a “watchful waiting” approach to treating some childhood ear infections might be just as effective, and more wise, than using traditional antibiotics. Their study could lead to new strategies in slowing the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The study included 223 children with non-severe ear […]

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Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston say a “watchful waiting” approach to treating some childhood ear infections might be just as effective, and more wise, than using traditional antibiotics. Their study could lead to new strategies in slowing the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The study included 223 children with non-severe ear infections between the ages of 6 months and 12 years, with half given antibiotics and the others given pain medication and monitored by their parents. Researchers found that 66 percent of children who were simply monitored recovered without antibiotics. “We know that most children with non-severe infections will get better anyway because they have it with a virus infection and when they get over the virus, they get over the ear. It’s a matter of managing the children with good pain management, Motrin or Tylenol, comfort care and observation, and most will do well,” says lead study author Dr. David McCormick.

Ear infections account for 60 percent of all antibiotics prescribed in childhood. Researchers are looking for ways to fight super-bacteria that have become increasingly resistant to antibiotics because of overuse. “In groups of children in populations where antibiotics have been used less or changed in antibiotics have been implemented, the organisms go back to being more sensitive to the typical antibiotics that we use. So we know that if we start to use fewer antibiotics, we will eventually get reversion back to germs that are more sensitive and more treatable,” says McCormick.

Antibiotics are still usually necessary in more severe cases of ear infections, but doctors are usually able to determine which cases are severe and those that aren’t.

McCormick says the study’s findings, and the “watchful waiting” strategy, could be useful in treating other childhood viruses where doctors have traditionally prescribed antibiotics.

The study is published in this month’s issue of the medical journal Pediatrics.

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Jack Williams

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Jack is back in Houston after some time away working in public radio and television in Lincoln, Nebraska. Before leaving for the Midwest, he worked in various roles at Houston Public Media from 2000-2016, including reporting, hosting and anchoring. Jack has also worked in commercial news radio in Houston, Austin...

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