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Recurrent Ear Infections and Persistent Effusion

Topic Overview

If a child has repeat ear infections (three or more ear infections in a 6-month period or four in 1 year), you may want to consider treatment to prevent future infections.

One option used a lot in the past is long-term oral antibiotic treatment. There is debate within the medical community about using antibiotics on a long-term basis to prevent ear infections. Many doctors don't want to prescribe long-term antibiotics, because they are not sure that they really work. Also, when antibiotics are used too often, bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics. Having tubes put in the ears is another option for treating repeat ear infections.

If your child has fluid buildup without infection, you may try watchful waiting. Fluid behind the eardrum after an ear infection is normal. In most children, the fluid clears up within a few months without treatment. Have your child's hearing tested if the fluid persists past 3 months. If hearing is normal, you may choose to keep watching your child without treatment.

If a child has fluid behind the eardrum for more than 3 months and has significant hearing problems, treatment is needed. Sometimes short-term hearing loss occurs, which is especially a concern in children age 2 and younger. Normal hearing is very important when young children are learning to talk.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised January 13, 2012

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