Hearing the truth about ear infections

By: Alison Dunn Apr 26, 2011
Hearing the truth about ear infections

In eight years, I have become an expert at knowing when a kid has an ear infection.

Both my children had chronic ear infections when they were small. And by chronic, I mean a winter season (and often summer too) wouldn’t go by without one or both getting an ear infection at least once a month. I got so adept at noticing the signs, I’d sometimes jump the gun and take them to the doctor a day early – before the doctor could actually spot the infection. (What fun that was; the doctor would send me home saying, ‘nope, no infection,’ only to have us return the next day with eardrums that were redder than a fire engine).

The minute either one of them had a runny nose or a temperature, was cranky and stopped eating, I knew what was coming. And as much as I tried to prevent those infections, it seemed there was nothing I could do. Off to the doctor and on to antibiotics again!

But last year, the Canadian Paediatric Society released new research regarding ear infections in children. Most ear infections, researchers found, didn’t need to be treated by antibiotics at all. In fact, many types of ear infections don’t respond at all to antibiotics.

That’s why the CPS now recommends doctors take more of a “wait-and-see” approach to ear infections. Instead of immediately prescribing antibiotics, doctors (and anxious parents!) need to wait a few days to see if the condition gets better on its own. (To learn more, be sure to read “Ear Infection 101” this week on Health Local.)

I’m of two minds about these new recommendations. On the one hand, I have worried over the years about the effect of too many rounds of antibiotics on my kids. Both have had their fair share of ear infections, and both have been on antibiotics more times than I can count. If it’s not absolutely necessary for them to be on antibiotics, I am more than happy to do without.

On the other hand, however, I’ve spent many a night with a crying child who was not getting any relief from ibuprofen or acetaminophen (both of which the CPS recommends to help a child handle the pain of an ear infection). In cases like those, I’m always so grateful to get the diagnosis of an ear infection and get that kid on antibiotics; he always seems to feel better within a day or two, easing the pain for both of us.

In the end, I do want to do what’s best for my kids, so I’ll continue to rely on my doctor’s judgment. If he says no antibiotics, I’ll listen, even if it means another few sleepless nights. He hasn’t been wrong yet – in fact, he’s the one who said the kids would outgrow their ear infections, and since neither has had one in almost two years, I’d daresay he was absolutely right.

Touch wood!

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.