Using antibiotics to treat ear infections in children is only slightly more effective than offering no treatment at all, said a study published Tuesday.
Infections of the middle ear are the most common childhood infection for which antibiotics are prescribed in the United States, said the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
A 2006 study showed that an average of 350 dollars per child is spent on treating such ear infections, known as acute otitis media (AOM), for a total of 2.8 billion dollars spent per year.
But giving young ones the drugs offered only minimal benefits.
"Our findings reinforce the existing knowledge that the best antibiotic treatment for common childhood ear infections may be no antibiotic treatment at all," said lead author of the study Tumaini Coker.
"Of 100 average-risk children with AOM, approximately 80 would likely get better within about three days without antibiotics," the study said.
If all 100 were given an antibiotic, 92 would "likely improve," but other painful side effects would pop up, like a rash in three to 10 of those children and diarrhea in five to 10 of them, it said.
"Clinicians need to weigh these risks (including possible long-term effects on antibiotic resistance) and benefits before prescribing immediate antibiotics for uncomplicated AOM," the study authors said.
The study took place over 10 years and was carried out by researchers from the Southern California Evidence Based Practice Center.
The study examined previously published research at the request of the American Academy of Pediatrics as part of its effort to update practice guidelines for treating ear infections in young children.