When a patient has an earache, he/she (or the parent, if the patient is a child) often asks for an antibiotic, thinking that the drug will alleviate the pain and cure the infection. But the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against prescribing antibiotics for mild-to-moderate ear infections in patients age two and older.

Reasons: Overuse of the drugs contributes to the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria...antibiotics reduce beneficial intestinal flora, interfering with digestion and immunity...and ear infections are caused mostly by viruses or occasionally by fungi, neither of which respond to antibiotics.

Natural treatments are more effective than antibiotics for reducing pain and hastening recovery from ear infections.

Evidence: In a German study of 131 children with ear infections, one group of children received conventional antibiotics, decongestants and fever-reducing medicines, while the rest were treated with homeopathic remedies. On average, children treated with homeopathy experienced two days of pain after treatment began and required four days of treatment... and 71% were free from recurrent infection in the year that followed. Children treated with conventional drugs had three days of ear pain and required 10 days of treatment (the standard length of antibiotic treatment). and only 57% remained free from recurrence.

Antibiotics do not prevent complications, either. A study in the British Medical Journal analyzed data from 3.36 million episodes of respiratory tract infections, from which ear infections commonly develop.

Results: Serious complications from ear infections were rare...and antibiotics prevented complications for only one person out of every 4,000 who took the drugs.

I consider antibiotics when a patient has pus in the middle ear (seen during an exam)...has a fever of 104°F or higher for more than 24 hours or any fever for more than 48 hours...has rapidly worsening symptoms...or does not respond to natural treatments within two days.

The natural treatments below work well for most bacterial and viral ear infections. For mild pain, try eardrops alone. If pain is moderate to severe or does not ease after one or two applications of eardrops, use all three remedies. Therapies generally are safe for adults and children of all ages. Products are sold in health food stores.

  • Garlic/mullein/St. John's wort eardrops relieve pain and have antibacterial and antiviral effects. Hold the capped bottle under hot water until warm...then place three drops in the affected ear three to four times daily. Do not use if the eardrum is ruptured indicated by pus in the ear).

Try: Eclectic Institute Ear Drops (800-3324372, www.eclecticherb.com).

  • Homeopathic chamomilla (from the chamomile plant) reduces pain and fever.

Dosage: Two 30C potency pellets four times a day.

  • Echinacea/goldenseal herbal formula strengthens the immune response. Use as directed, typically four times daily. For children, choose an alcohol-free product.

Pain relief: Run one facecloth under hot water and another under cold water to make compresses. Hold the hot compress over the ear for two minutes, then switch to the cold compress for 30 seconds. Repeat twice. Do in the morning, midday and evening for two days to reduce congestion and draw healing immune cells to the area.

Warning: Hospitals Often Give Adult Drugs to Children

Most drugs given to children in hospitals are MVI not approved for use in pediatric patients. In fact, very few medications have gone through testing to prove that they are safe and effective for children.

Result: Nearly 80% of hospitalized children get drugs not specifically approved for people their age. This sort of off-label use is most common with central nervous system drugs, such as morphine.

Self-defense: Parents should always ask about interactions with other medications and what is known about the effects of any drug given to their children.

Chicken Pox Vaccine—Take Two

Two doses of the chicken pox vaccine are needed for protection against the disease. The first dose should be given when a child is 12 to 15 months old. The second dose is given at four to six years of age.

People 13 years old or older who haven't had chicken pox or the vaccine should get two doses four to eight weeks apart.

When children receive only a single dose, 15% to 20% of them are not protected against chicken pox. If your child got only one dose—or if you received only one as a child—arrange for the second dose.

People who had chicken pox are at risk of developing shingles, which occurs later in life and is caused by the same herpes virus that causes chicken pox.

A separate vaccine against shingles is recommended for adults age 60 and older. Ask your doctor for details.

Better Flu Prevention For Kids

Flu nasal spray is more effective than flu T shots for young children. According to a new study, the spray is 55% more effective in protecting children under age five than the shots are.

Likely reason: The weakened but live viruses in the nasal spray (influenza shots contain dead viruses) stimulate an extra immune reaction in the nose and throat. The spray recently was approved for use in children ages two to five. Research has not shown a similar boost in effectiveness among adults.

Meningitis Vaccine a Must

Meningitis vaccine is now recommended for all children ages 11 to 18 and may be given to children as young as age two who are at high risk for bacterial meningitis or have been exposed to the disease. The meningococcal vaccine protects against bacterial meningitis and a related bloodstream infection-rare conditions in the US, but ones whose symptoms (stiff neck, fever, low blood pressure and rash) can develop quickly and may lead to death within just hours. Meningitis can be spread by coughing, sneezing and kissing. Living in a communal setting, such as a nursing home or a college dormitory, increases the risk. The vaccine costs about $89 and is usually covered by insurance.

Girls More Susceptible To Concussions

Teenage girls who play sports are more susceptible to concussions than teenage boys who play the same sports.

Recent finding: High school girls who play soccer sustained concussions 68% more often than boys did. Girls who play basketball sustained concussions 193% more often than boys.

Also: Concussion symptoms, including dizziness, lethargy and concentration problems, take longer to resolve in girls.

Nearly Half of US Teens Mutilate Themselves

Forty-six percent admit to cutting or burning their bodies...biting themselves...or picking at their skin to draw blood. Self-injury is glorified in some movies, songs and Web sites. Teens who do it say it gives them a sense of control over their lives...or that the physical pain distracts them from mental or emotional distress.

More information: Go to Selfinjury.com, or call 800-DONT-CUT.

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