Help is at hand for parents worried about children’s ear infections

Published: Tue Jan 20 2009

Around 200,0001 children suffer from repeated ear infections or glue ear each year in the UK. Although the majority of ear infections clear up naturally, there is a danger that potentially more serious cases are being overlooked and, whilst rare, the bacteria that cause ear infections can lead to complications such as pneumonia and meningitis. Where the conditions cause hearing loss because the middle ear becomes filled with fluid, younger children in particular can have problems with language development and speech.

The leaflet is full of practical tips and guidance and contains the latest medical thinking on these conditions, describing the range of possible symptoms, current treatments and ways in which parents can support their child and prevent further problems. Historically, incidences of children’s ear infections in the UK reach a peak between January and March approximately, which is why Deafness Research UK is publishing its leaflet now.

With good knowledge, parents can do much to help their child and so Deafness Research UK’s new leaflet is being circulated to 6,000 GP surgeries in January, and can also be obtained directly from Deafness Research UK, telephone 0808 808 2222 or email

Vivienne Michael, chief executive of Deafness Research UK, said: "Part of the problem is that parents lack knowledge about what to do if their child has recurring or persistent ear problems. It is important parents should be aware that antibiotics only help a small proportion of children with ear infections, and are not recommended at all in the treatment of glue ear."
Ian Williamson, adviser to Deafness Research UK, senior lecturer in General Practice at Southampton University and a practising GP, said: "The NHS needs to adopt a more holistic approach to ear conditions; there is a general problem whereby antibiotics are being prescribed needlessly for children’s ear conditions in many cases. Ear conditions and their root causes are not necessarily best tackled by antibiotics. We are concerned that time pressure on the NHS – combined with a deeply held cultural myth by the public that antibiotics are a cure-all - means that many children and parents aren’t receiving the best advice possible on how to treat and prevent ear infections."

Overuse of antibiotics encourages antibiotic resistance and can reduce children’s ability to fight further infection in the future. ‘Good’ bacteria often present naturally in the throat, nose and stomach may protect against infections of many types.

"We are particularly concerned about children with repeat ear infections; these children need to be identified for special attention and may suffer developmentally if the root causes of their ear problems are not addressed at an early stage," added Ian Williamson.

If a child has a tendency to get ear infections, they should be seen by their GP so that they can be accurately monitored and suitable treatment prescribed. For children with possible glue ear, the GP should keep a close eye on symptoms for up to three months during which time the child’s hearing is likely to be tested. This will help the GP decide whether referral for specialist treatment is appropriate.

Parents’ observations about their child’s symptoms can be of critical importance in helping a GP to make an accurate diagnosis. The signs that a child has one of these conditions can vary greatly and fluctuate even within the course of a day. But without correct diagnosis, the right treatment may not be given.

For information on research into deafness and other hearing conditions, log on to the website,’

1 NICE report 2008 on Surgical Management of OME in children

About Deafness Research UK
• Deafness Research UK is the country’s only charity dedicated to finding new cures, treatments and technologies for deaf, hard of hearing and other hearing impaired people.
• The charity supports high quality medical research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all forms of hearing impairment including tinnitus.
• The Deafness Research UK Information Service provides free information and advice based on the latest scientific evidence and informed by leading experts. The Information Service can be contacted on Freephone 0808 808 2222
• For more information on research into deafness, tinnitus and other hearing conditions, log on to the website at where you can access a wide range of information. Alternatively you can e-mail Deafness Research UK at
• One in seven people in the UK – almost nine million people - suffer hearing loss.
• Deafness Research UK was founded in 1985 by Lord (Jack) and Lady Ashley of Stoke.
• In January 2008, Action for Tinnitus Research (ATR) was linked with Deafness Research UK under a uniting direction order under section 96(6) of the Charities Act 1993.
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