Ask the Expert: Ear Infections and Antibiotics

These days we have so much information at our fingertips to help solve any parenting dilemma (admittedly, most of the times we may have too much). You could argue the Internet was both the best and worst thing to ever happen to parenting.Despite the sometimes overwhelming amount of information, it’s still nice to consult a parenting expert once in a while to get some new ideas, advice and even a dose of perspective.

At LiveMom, we want to help answer your questions. We have a recurring feature called Ask the Expert, brought to you by The Austin Diagnostic Clinic, that will take on a wide range of subjects. Got a question? Post it below, on our Facebook page or email us and we’ll try to get it answered!

Is that fussy baby tugging on his or her ears because they are tired and cranky, or is there an ear infection brewing? Some kids present  telltale signs of an ear infection while others require a trip to the doctor to determine the cause of all of that tugging and crying. Once the source of pain and discomfort is determined, the decision on how to best treat the infection is the next step to treating the infection. In this month’s Ask the Exert series, we asked Dr. Christopher Saenz, MD, Pediatrician at The Austin Diagnostic Clinic Steiner Ranch, a few questions to help make the best decision possible when it comes to diagnosing and treating ear infections in children.

What are the symptoms of an ear infection – for infants, toddlers or older children?
Older children, of course, are able to tell you that their ears hurt. Infants and toddlers usually cannot. They can pull on their ears, be fussy, run a fever, or wake up crying at night.

What are some causes?
The 3 main bacteria that cause otitis media are Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus Influenzae (not related to the flu, despite the name, and Moraxella catarrhalis. Typically, a child will catch a cold that causes their eustachian tube to become clogged. This allows bacteria that usually can drain out the nose to from the middle ear space to the nose via the eustachian tube to multiply in the middle ear space. The fluid and the bacteria that accumulate there cause the pain associated with otitis media.

When should you take your child to the doctor?
I recommend taking them if they appear to be uncomfortable. Of course the older child will tell you that their ear hurts, but the smaller child may only be fussy and pulling on their ear. Children do not always run a fever, so it can be tricky.

What can you expect at your child’s visit?
Like any visit, the doctor will take a history of the present illness, review any other pertinent history, examine your baby and order any tests that may assist your physician in making the correct diagnosis.

AdvertisementAre ear infections contagious?
The actual ear infection is not contagious, but the upper respiratory infection that caused the occluded eustachian tube is, usually, contagious.

When would you prescribe an antibiotic for an ear infection?
If I see an otitis media on my exam, I will prescribe high dose amoxicillin, amoxicillin with clavulanic acid (Augmentin), or cefdinir (Omnicef) depending on your unique situation.

Why is it important to complete a full course of antibiotics?
It is vital to finish the course of antibiotics exactly as prescribed. Your physician has chosen the specific antibiotic, dosage, and duration of treatment based upon what is the current recommended standard of care. If you take it differently than prescribed, you are taking a risk creating bacteria that are resistant to current antibiotics and therapies. None of us want that to happen.

How do you know when your child has recovered?
Your child should begin to feel better 1-2 days after starting the antibiotic. They should be better by the end of the course of antibiotics.

Your physician may or may not wish to reevaluate your child after the course of antibiotics to document resolution of the infection. We, pediatricians, want nothing more than for your child to get better as soon as possible.

I treat EVERY SINGLE PATIENT as if they were MY child. I will not give children antibiotics if they do not need them because that also is hazardous for the child, as well as for society as a whole. I promise I will give your baby the correct medicine that they need to get better as rapidly as possible.


Christopher Saenz, MD is a board-certified pediatrician practicing at The Austin Diagnostic Clinic Steiner Ranch in west Austin. He is accepting new patients and most insurance plans. The Austin Diagnostic Clinic is an independent group of 130 doctors and providers practicing in 21 medical specialties at 9 locations throughout Central Texas since 1952. Our vision is to be the premier multi-specialty clinic providing compassionate care and excellent service.
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Catherine Prystup
About Catherine Prystup 2157 Articles
Catherine Prystup founded out of a desire to build a better community for Austin-area moms. She has three children, ages seventeen, eight and three years old.

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