Page last updated at 00:29 GMT, Sunday, 22 February 2009

Warning over child ear infections

Sudden hearing loss could be an ominous sign

The future health of thousands of UK children could be affected because their ear infections are not being treated properly, a charity says.

Deafness Research UK says that antibiotics are given routinely in many cases, but often do not work.

Children whose hearing is regularly affected may suffer developmental problems, but many parents are unaware of what to do, it said.

The RNID said it was vital to seek GP advice about recurrent infections.

A report by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, published last year, suggested that as many as 200,000 children each year suffer repeated middle ear infections, which may accompany glue ear.

Part of the problem is that parents lack knowledge about what to do if their child has recurring or persistent ear problems
Vivienne Michael
Deafness Research UK

Dr Ian Williamson, a senior lecturer in general practice at Southampton University, said that too many GPs turned to antibiotics to treat the condition.

He said: "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."

Instead, Dr Williamson is urging the NHS to take a more "holistic" approach, with children suffering recurrent infections identified quickly so that other treatments can be provided.

These can include the insertion of tubes called "grommets", which allow the fluid trapped in the middle ear to drain away.

Language problems

Dr Williamson said that if other treatments were not considered, children could suffer problems with speech in language development as their impaired hearing held them back.

The charity also warned that overuse of antibiotics could help breed resistant bacteria and kill "good bacteria" in the nose and throat which actually helped prevent infection taking hold.

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."

Angela King, a senior audiology specialist at RNID, said that although very uncomfortable, glue ear tended to clear up on its own in most children.

She added: "However, up to 5% of children get persistent glue ear or repeated bouts of it - making it difficult to hear what parents or teachers are saying.

"If not treated properly, this can cause long-term hearing loss.

"We would urge any parents to seek advice from their GP in the first instance and if problems persist seek a referral to an ear specialist."

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