For those of us speech-language pathologists who serve the birth to 5-year-old population (or have young children of our own), it is always important for us to know the most recent health and safety regulations that can affect our clients/students. Here are the newest regulations regarding the medical treatment of ear infections.
As otitis media affects three out of four children by the age of 3, and there is a correlation between chornic otits media and communication delay, it is likely that we as SLPs will treat students with acute or chronic otitis media. As a result we must understand the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines regarding the medical treatment of this condition.
Although, these regulations were initially released in 2004, it appears there is still much confusion among the medical community and, as a result, a second publication of the same AAP medical regulations for treating otitis media was released in 2013.
The regulations were written in response to antibiotic overuse and resistance in children. Traditionally children are treated with antibiotics as the first line of defense for acute otitis media. As there are a number of causes for ear pain, it is crucial that pediatricians firstly make an accurate diagnosis of otitis media prior to administration of antibiotics. Doctors are urged to diagnose otitis media only when a moderate to severe bulging of the tympanic membrane (i.e. ear drum) is present. Mild bulging and recent ear pain (i.e. meaning within 48 hours) exhibited along with other signs of ear infection (e.g. fever) also may be diagnosed appropriately. Therefore, if the pediatrician is unsure of the diagnosis of otitis media he/she is discouraged t to prescribe antiobiotics.
Although pain is present, antibiotics are not necessarily to be considered the first course of action. In fact, in response to ear pain and/or low grade fevers, pain relievers are to be recommended initially as “about 70 percent of kids get better on their own within two or three days, and giving antibiotics when they aren’t necessary can lead to the development of superbugs over time” reports Dr. Richard M. Rosenfield, professor and chairman of otolaryngology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn.
Antibiotics are only to be prescribed when the child is exhibiting several signs or symptoms of otitis media (e.g. pain, swelling for at least 48 hours, fever above 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit, etc.). Immediate prescription of antibiotics should be recommended in the event a child’s tympanic membrane ruptures.
Although it is important to understand the medical treatment of otitis media, perhaps it is more important for us to understand the simple preventive measures a parent can take to help avoid the development of ear infections in the first place. In addition to this medical treatment plan, the guidelines also stress avoidance of tobacco exposure, receiving the influenza vaccination, and breast feeding exclusively for the first 6 months (if possible) as additional ways to prevent infant ear infections.
Medial guidelines for “silent ear infections” (i.e. middle ear fluid without presence of other symptoms typically following acute otitis media or colds) consist of “watchful waiting.” If a child is diagnosed with “silent ear infections” also known as otitis media with effusion the pediatrician should initially provide no medical treatment. A follow up reexamination should take place three to six months later. If fluid persists for more than three months, the pediatrician should recommend a speech/language and hearing assessment. If middle ear fluid persists more than four months and signs of hearing loss are evident, a pediatrician may recommend placement of PE tubes or refer their patient to an ENT for further assessment.
I very much appreciate the AAP for adding in the guideline of further assessment in the areas of speech/language and hearing if fluid persists longer than three months. This demonstrates the AAP’s understanding of the important of communication development and the need for a quick resolution to such delays rather than the typical “wait and see” attitude that parents often report to encounter particularly in instances of “late talkers.” Now we, as SLPs, have guidance and support from the AAP for our clients/students with long-term persistent middle ear fluid.
Please refer to the resources below for further information.
Jaslow, R. (2013, February 25). Antibiotics for ear infections: Pediatrician release new guidelines. CBS News.
New guidelines for treating ear infections. (2004). The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide.
Maria Del Duca, MS, CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist in southern Arizona. She owns a private practice, Communication Station: Speech Therapy, PLLC, and has a speech and language blog under the same name. She has been practicing since 2003 and is an affiliate of Special Interest Group 16, School-Based Issues. For more information, visit her blog or find her on Facebook.