General Information About Antibiotic Resistance

A doctor said your child has fluid in the middle ear, also called otitis (oh-TIE-Tus) media with effusion (uh-FEW-zhun) (OME). Fluid usually does not bother children and it almost always goes away on its own. This does not have to be treated with antibiotics, unless it lasts for a few months. Here are some facts about OME and ear infections.

What are the main kinds of ear infections?

  • Swimmer's ear (otitis externa) is an infection of the ear canal that can be painful and is treated with eardrops.
  • A middle ear infection, which a doctor might call "acute otitis media" (AOM), may cause ear pain, fever, or an inflamed eardrum, and is often treated with oral antibiotics.

What causes OME?
Fluid may build up in the middle ear for two reasons. When a child has a cold, the middle ear makes fluid just as the nose does - it just doesn't run out as easily from the middle ear. After a middle ear infection, fluid may take a month or longer to go away.

Are antibiotics ever needed for OME?
Sometimes antibiotics may be needed if the fluid is still present after a few months and is causing decreased hearing in both ears. For this reason, your child will need an ear check in a few months. If there is still fluid in the middle ear, your child may need a hearing test.

What should I do?

  • The best treatment is to wait and watch your child. Since fluid in the middle ear rarely bothers children, it is best to let it go away on its own. Right now, your child might not need antibiotics.
  • You may need to schedule a visit to see the doctor again in a few months to be sure the fluid is gone.

Why not try antibiotics now?
Taking antibiotics when they are not needed can be harmful. Each time people take antibiotics, they are more likely to carry resistant germs in their noses and throats. Common antibiotics cannot kill these resistant germs. Your child may need antibiotics that are more costly, given by a needle, and/or administered in the hospital. Since OME will almost always get better on its own, it is better to wait and take antibiotics only when they are needed.

Colds

Your child has a runny nose. This is a normal part of what happens during the common cold and as it gets better. Here are some facts about colds and runny noses.

What causes a runny nose during a cold?
When germs that cause colds first infect the nose and sinuses, the nose makes clear mucus. This helps wash the germs from the nose and sinuses. After two or three days, the body's immune cells fight back, changing the mucus to a white or yellow color. As the bacteria that live in the nose grow back, they may also be found in the mucus, which changes the mucus to a greenish color. This is normal and does not mean your child needs antibiotics.

What should I do?

  • The best treatment is to wait and watch your child. Runny nose, cough, and symptoms like fever, headache, and muscle aches may be bothersome, but antibiotics will not make them go away any faster.
  • Some people find that using a cool mist vaporizer or saltwater nose drops makes their child feel better.

Are antibiotics ever needed for a runny nose?

Antibiotics are needed only if your doctor tells you that your child has sinusitis. Your child's doctor may prescribe other medicine or give you tips to help with a cold's other symptoms like fever and cough, but antibiotics are not needed to treat the runny nose.

Why not try antibiotics now?

Taking antibiotics when they are not needed can be harmful. Each time people take antibiotics, they are more likely to carry resistant germs. Your child may need antibiotics that are more costly, given by a needle, and/or administered in the hospital. Since a runny nose almost always gets better on its own, it is better to wait and take antibiotics only when they are needed.

Colds, flu, and most sore throats and bronchitis are caused by viruses. Antibiotics do not help fight viruses. And they may do more harm than good: taking antibiotics when they are not needed - and cannot treat the illness - increases the risk of a resistant infection later.