Antibiotics for acute otitis media in children

P. P. Glasziou*, M. Hayem, C. B. Del Mar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

156 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Acute otitis media is one of the most common diseases in early infancy and childhood. Antibiotic use for acute otitis media varies from 31% in the Netherlands to 98% in the USA and Australia. OBJECTIVES: The objective of this review was to assess the effects of antibiotics for children with acute otitis media. SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register, MEDLINE, Index Medicus, Current Contents and reference lists of articles from 1958 to January 1999. SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised trials comparing antimicrobial drugs with placebo in children with acute otitis media. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Three reviewers independently assessed trial quality and extracted data. MAIN RESULTS: Nine trials were eligible but only six trials, with a total of 1,962 children, included patient-relevant outcomes. The methodological quality of the included trials was generally high. All trials were from developed countries. The trials showed no reduction in pain at 24 hours, but a 34% relative reduction (95% confidence interval 16% to 48%) in pain at two to seven days. Since approximately 85% of patients will have settled spontaneously in this time, this means an absolute reduction of about 5% or that about 20 children must be treated with antibiotics to prevent one child having some pain after two days. There was no effect of antibiotics on deafness, as measured by subsequent tympanometry, other complications, or recurrence. However, audiometry was done in only two studies and incompletely reported, and there were few serious complications seen in these trials: only one case of mastoiditis occurred (in a penicillin treated group). One semi-randomised trial in Sweden in 1954 reported a rate of 17% in the untreated group versus none in the penicillin treated groups. REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: Antibiotics provide a small benefit for acute otitis media in children. As most cases will resolve spontaneously, this benefit must be weighed against the possible adverse reactions. Antibiotic treatment may play an important role in reducing the risk of mastoiditis in populations where it is more common.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD000219
JournalCochrane database of systematic reviews (Online)
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


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