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Ear Infections – When Do They Need Antibiotics?

baby-ear-infectionWhen my girls were two and four, I took them to an urgent care clinic one weekend after their fevers — which had been gone for two days following dual ear infections — suddenly spiked.  I wasn’t looking for antibiotics, I was looking for reassurance that they hadn’t developed something nasty.  What I got was a stern lecture on antibiotic abuse, a pamphlet repeating the lecture, and a bill for $50.

I was annoyed — he didn’t even examine my kids, after all, and he was really condescending.  But that hard line on antibiotic use seems to taming our country’s unhealthy habit of prescribing antibiotics for what’s usually a viral illness.

With cold and flu season just around the corner, it’s a good time to review exactly when to see your doctor when your child develops an ear infection.

While we’ve known for a while that antibiotics don’t really do much good for respiratory infections, it’s a little harder to convince a concerned parent that ear infections will also usually resolve on their own, as well.  Many doctors now hands out scripts, but asks parents not to fill them unless the kids get worse.

So when should you be concerned about an ear infection?  As always, consult your doctor first. But in many cases, treating with pain reliever for a few days might be all that is necessary.  Here are some warning signs that something more sinister is going on:

  • fever of 100.4 or higher
  • discharge or pus from the ears
  • worsening of symptoms

Babies under three months always need to see a doctor when they develop a fever.  For more on treating ear infections, visit the CDC’s website on otitis media.

Photo: Jyn Meyer, sxc.hu

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