Doctors urged to go easy on the antibiotics for ear infections

Baby crying tugging ear

Most parents know well the screams and sleepless nights that accompany ear infections – but new health guidelines might make them think twice about going to the doctor in the morning

Doctors are being urged to stop prescribing antibiotics for most common ear infections. New draft guidance issued by NICE – the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – states that in the majority of cases, paracetamol or ibruprofen should be given instead.

The evidence behind the guidelines should help to reassure parents worried about whether Calpol is going to cut it. In a review of children with symptoms, NICE found that around 60% showed signs of improvement (think less tears, less screams) within 24 hours of a diagnosis – without taking any antibiotics.

The new draft guidelines have been issued for doctors treating acute otitis media, an infection that occurs in the middle ear. What healthcare professionals are being asked to do is to only administer antibiotics when they’re really needed.

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive at NICE, said: “We are all too well aware of the dangers we are facing with antibiotic resistance, so it is vital these medicines are only used when they are effective.

“The evidence shows antibiotics are not needed by most children and young people with middle ear infections. We must make sure the people who need them are given them, but routine prescribing in all cases isn't appropriate.”

Ear infections most affect infants aged between 15 months and six years old, and 25% of children will have experienced one before the age of 10.

But unless a child’s symptoms persist for more than three days – or they have discharge from the ear – parents should treat them with ibuprofen or paracetamol.