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Minerva Pediatrica 2004 October;56(5):481-96


language: English

Antibiotics for otitis media with effusion

Mandel E. M., Casselbrant M. L.


Otitis media with effusion (OME) is defined as asymptomatic middle-ear effusion, that is, without the signs and symptoms of acute otitis media (AOM), such as fever, otalgia, or otorrhea. OME can occur after an episode of AOM or may occur without any prior or concurrent symptoms and is often noted on a routine physical examination or screening. Because children with OME are usually not ill, there is a question of whether treatment is warranted for this condition. Also adding to the complexity of this problem is the high spontaneous cure rate of OME. This paper will review the many clinical trials of the efficacy of antimicrobial therapy for OME. We have grouped the studies into 4 major categories: antibiotic vs no treatment, antibiotic vs placebo, antibiotic vs antibiotic, and antibiotic prophylaxis. While study designs, definitions, and quality vary widely, these studies show a trend toward short-term efficacy of antimicrobial treatment, but long-term efficacy is doubtful. In this age of antimicrobial resistance, coupled with the high natural cure rate, routine antimicrobial treatment of OME is not warranted. It may be useful in selected patients, particularly those with chronic OME (3 months or longer of bilateral effusion or 6 months or longer of unilateral effusion) for whom surgery is being considered: a 1-time short course of antibiotic may allow cancellation or at least postponement of a surgical procedure, particularly in spring/summer when one would like to avoid placing tubes in the ears and placing the child at risk for otorrhea due to water exposure. Also, antimicrobial therapy may provide at least short-term relief for symptomatic children (hearing loss, developmental delay, etc.) for whom surgery must be postponed or is contraindicated.

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