Ear infection, or otitis media, is the most common medical problem for children in the United States, and is the most common reason for prescribing antibiotics for infants and children. The typical doctor does not take care to avoid the overuse of these potentially dangerous drugs, and he does not champion nutritional excellence to prevent future infections.
When Stephanie Rogers, a typical seven-year-old girl, became my patient, her parents handed me a printout from the local pharmacy documenting the filling of 67 rounds of antibiotics at the cost of $1,643.80 by the ripe age of seven. Once the pediatric group started prescribing the antibiotics for minor complaints of fever and cough, it escalated to ear infections, sinus infections, and finally visits to the ear specialist by the age of four. She received 15 separate prescriptions of antibiotics when she was five years old. The first year she was my patient, the entire family changed its diet style. Stephanie went along for the ride and did fine. I did use an antibiotic once for her that next winter, when she had a persistent high fever and a red painful eardrum; however, that was the last time an antibiotic prescription was necessary. Luckily, Stephanie has been free of antibiotics ever since.
An international study following more than 3,000 children treated by general practitioners in nine countries showed that antibiotics did not improve the rate of recovery from ear infections. But nearly 98 percent of U.S. physicians in the survey prescribed antimicrobials routinely, the biggest percentage of all countries surveyed.
As a result of accumulating evidence documenting the dangers of antibiotics and their overuse, new guidelines for treating ear infections in children were just released from a joint effort of the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics. These guidelines represent a major shift in policy and thinking by physician leadership. The guidelines encourage doctors to initially manage the pain and not prescribe antibiotics for children with ear infections and to defer antibiotic use for the sicker children who are not improving two or three days later. I hope doctors will heed this message.
The story of Stephanie Rogers (not her real name) is from the book Disease-Proof Your Child.