Should my kid take antibiotics for an ear infection?

Giving your kid antibiotics for every infection can wreak havoc on their gut health. Here's how to decide when antibiotics are the right choice.

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My paediatrician prescribed antibiotics for my kid’s ear infection. I’ve heard they wipe out all the body’s good bacteria. Is it OK for me to wait and see if the infection goes away on its own?

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I’m glad you are thinking about avoiding using antibiotics for an ear infection. Ear infections are caused by fluid that builds up in the middle ear, giving bacteria a chance to grow. In two-thirds of kids, ear infections (otitis media) clear up on their own, without antibiotics. Not only can antibiotics lead to tummy troubles because they throw kids’ gut microbes off balance, but using them for every infection can also pose a greater risk, as overuse is leading to bacteria becoming resistant to typical antibiotics. Doctors worry that effective treatment will become more expensive and difficult, and require stronger medications with more side effects.

The official recommendation from paediatric organizations like the Canadian Paediatric Society is to wait 48 hours to determine if the ear infection is getting better on its own or requires antibiotics. So your doctor should be waiting it out for the first couple of days, unless your child is under six months or has immune system issues. You may be able to avoid using antibiotics—and the upset stomach it can cause, too. But if your kid has been formally diagnosed with a more serious infection—say, they had a positive test for strep throat or an X-ray showing pneumonia—it’s important to follow your doctor’s orders and give your kid the antibiotic treatment.

Read more:
6 common medication mistakes parents make with kids
Ask Dr. Dina: Should you finish the entire bottle of antibiotics?

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