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J Fam Pract. 1999 Jan;48(1):43-6.

Treatment of recurrent otitis media after a previous treatment failure. Which antibiotics work best?

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  • 1Department of Family Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston 29425-0100, USA.



Recurrent infection after an episode of otitis media is common in pediatric patients. If a patient experienced primary treatment failure in a preceding episode, physicians often feel pressured to prescribe a broad-spectrum, second-line agent for the next episode rather than a first-line drug. The purpose of our study was to determine whether using a second-line drug resulted in fewer treatment failures in a recurrent otitis episode following an episode of apparent resistance.


The Practice Partner Research Network database, a national research network of practices that use the same electronic medical record, was reviewed to identify all primary episodes of otitis media over a 2-year period (N = 7807). From this, 1416 pediatric patients with presumed treatment failures were identified. The subset of those with a second otitis media episode more than 90 days after the index episode (N = 343) was selected for study. Of this group, 236 (69%) received first-line antibiotics (amoxicillin, ampicillin, penicillin, or sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim) and the remaining 107 received a broader-spectrum, second-line antibiotic. The primary outcome was the need for an additional antibiotic for otitis media within the next 45 days.


Patients receiving first- and second-line antibiotics did not differ in sex or age. However, those receiving second-line antibiotics had a shorter duration between episodes (231 vs 280 days, P = .007). Failure rates for first- and second-line antibiotics in recurrent episodes were not significantly different (13% vs 19%, P = .20). Because the duration between episodes could have affected failure rates, we stratified the time between episodes into short, intermediate, and long duration. Second-line antibiotics were not superior to first-line drugs in any stratum.


For a new otitis media episode in a patient with a previous treatment failure, first-line drugs (amoxicillin, ampicillin, penicillin, or sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim) are just as effective as broader-spectrum, more expensive, second-line antibiotics.

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