Antihistamines and Ear Infections

Dr. Greene’s take on antihistamines for ear infections…

Antihistamines and Ear Infections

Almost one in five clinicians will give a child an antihistamine or an antihistamine-containing cold medicine to give added relief to children with ear infections. Even when they don’t, parents will often pick up an over-the-counter product on their own. Their use seems to be rising, as antibiotic use is falling.

The idea is that these should decrease congestion and unplug the Eustachian tubes, allowing the infected fluid in the ear to clear. And besides, they can make kids sleepy! Do they really help?

A beautifully designed study in the September 2003 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics concluded that antihistamine┬ámedications┬ámake the situation worse – lengthening the time that it takes the ear infection to go away.

I suggest giving most kids with ear infections eardrops to relieve the pain while their bodies fight the infections. This can help them sleep while they heal.

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.

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  1. Alva Bendixen

    You actually make it seem so easy together with your presentation however I in finding this matter to be really one thing that I think I’d by no means understand. It sort of feels too complicated and extremely huge for me. I’m having a look forward to your subsequent post, I will try to get the hang of it!

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  2. Amanda

    Can u please explain why antihistamine would not help an ear infection, or make it worse?

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  3. Suzette

    Thank you this was very helpful.

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    • Mimi

      Cotton in the ear helps keep air out, pain down , why no
      Tussin ? Im 66 and have bad allergys last few weeks !
      thanks

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      • Hi Mimi,

        Dr. Greene explained a bit further to another reader — “The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat doctors), and the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research convened an interdisciplinary panel of experts to sift through the morass of literature on ear infections and to provide guidelines based solidly on well-designed research studies.

        This panel recommends against using antihistamines or decongestants, either alone or in combination…Although it would make sense that relieving congestion should help, studies looking at their use have shown no improvement in outcome over children using antibiotics alone. With no established benefit, the side effects and cost were considered prohibitive. Individual children do differ in their sensitivities to medications, so I cannot tell you that a prescription-strength decongestant will not help your daughter, but I can tell you that every attempt to prove its efficacy has failed.”

        Of note, Dr. Greene is a pediatrician and both these answers were addressing children with ear infections. Additionally, ears that are plugged from allergies may be very different than ear infections from bacteria trapped in the Eustachian tubes. Have you had your ears checked by a physician for a diagnosis?

        Best, @MsGreene
        Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

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