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Are Antibiotics Necessary for Ear Infections?

Are Antibiotics Necessary for Ear Infections?

Q: My child has had too many ear infections! I am anxious about using so many antibiotics. What do you suggest?

A: It’s very clear that over the last decade doctors have become too comfortable with writing prescriptions for antibiotics. Antibiotics are powerful, life-saving medications, but you don’t need them for every little sniffle.

Most ear infections are the result of viruses and will clear on their own–no antibiotics needed! Sometimes viral infections progress into bacterial infections and then antibiotics may be necessary but this is the exception rather than the rule.

It is worrisome that your child has the ear aches so frequently, and it might be worth your while to see a pediatric ear, nose, and throat specialist to see if there is any anatomical reason for this.

For routine management of discomfort during an earache, try a warm compress or following the recommended dosage guidelines for children’s strength acetaminophen.

Learn more:
Prevent Staph Infections
Immunity Boosting First Aid Kit
Do You Need Anti-Bacterial Soap?

Dr. Brent Ridge is the health expert for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. You can call and ask him a question live every Tuesday at 2 p.m. Eastern on Sirius Satellite Radio, Channel 112 (1.866.675.6675). You can also follow along as he learns to grow his own food and raise goats on his farm in upstate New York by visiting

Got a health question for Dr. Brent? E-mail him at

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Dr. Brent

As an undergraduate, Dr. Brent Ridge majored in public health and environmental science, studying the way the state of the natural environment impacts our health choices. As a physician, he specializes in the field of aging. Send your health questions to Dr. Brent at


+ add your own
8:24AM PDT on Jun 28, 2012

that depends

5:58AM PST on Dec 1, 2011

kids can get very sick and be in a lot of pain if you don't give them antibiotics for a severe ear infection.

5:54AM PST on Dec 1, 2011

Uhm like yea they kind of are necessary for ear infections or really bad things can happn.

5:43AM PDT on Aug 16, 2011

Thanks for the article.

9:49AM PDT on Apr 18, 2011

My daughter was getting ear infections all the time when she was little, and we were getting the antibiotics. As soon as we stopped the antibiotics the ear infections stopped

2:34PM PDT on Apr 17, 2011

Many years ago, when my now twenty-year-old was very small, I refused antibiotics for a routine ear infection and was practically accused of neglect. I did not then, nor do I now, believe that it is appropriate to use antibiotics or any other prescription drugs without first asking the prescribing doctor this question, "Will the patient die if they don't take this prescription?" These drugs are powerful, and can save lives in the proper context, but misused or overused and they can be deadly. Our family doctor has become used to my skepticism and says that more patients should be asking such questions. My family is very healthy, no one, fortunately, needs any kind of regular medication and we rarely, if ever, take any medicine, even OTC. I don't believe this is completely due to my stance but I do believe it may be part of the reason and am very careful to always question whether medication is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY before accepting any prescription.

9:17AM PST on Mar 1, 2011

not so necessary...only for bacterial infections...

6:33AM PST on Feb 27, 2011

A very painful condition!

4:42AM PDT on Aug 26, 2010

thanks for post

12:41PM PDT on Aug 22, 2010


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