Best Ear Infection Treatment? Time

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Health : generic medicine, medical, caduceus, Child with ear infection
AP/CBS

An ear infection is one of the most painful illnesses a child can get. Now, a new study out today raises questions about the best way to treat those infections, CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook reports.

Ear infections are the most common reason children are given antibiotics, accounting for 15 million prescriptions a year in the United States.

"I think that there is a lot of pressure in doctors' offices to give antibiotics," says Dr. Joe Haddad at Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital in New York. "A parent takes off a day from work, a child has a fever and ear pain, (and) they don't feel like they've accomplished anything unless they walk out with an antibiotic."

"When my child is sick, I want them to feel better right away. I want medicine because it clears it up really fast," says Lisa Shirvan, a parent.

But a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association endorses a more old-fashioned treatment for ear aches: Just wait and see.

For the children in the study, ranging in age from 6 months to 12 years, waiting 48 hours and receiving only pain medicine was just as effective in clearing up the ear infections as giving antibiotics immediately.

"The reason why you can probably get away by not using antibiotics in these children is because (the ear infections) are not caused by bacteria at all," says Dr. Stephen Baum, an infectious disease expert at New York's Beth Israel Hospital. "They may be caused by viruses. Those are not sensitive to antibiotics and will go away by themselves, which is what this study shows."

However, the wait-and-see approach is not for all children. Children under age 2, and those who have high or prolonged fever, persistent ear pain, swelling or redness are more likely to need antibiotics.

The study found doctors could reduce the use of antibiotics by 56 percent without compromising patient care. At a time when experts are worried that the overuse of these drugs could make them less effective, this is comforting news to parents who just want their kids to get well.