According to research published in the British Medical Journal (February 10, 2001; 322: 336-342), waiting a few days to see whether symptoms of an ear infection improve before beginning a course of antibiotics appears to be a practical way to reduce the use of antibiotics. This may help prevent the overuse of the drugs, and thus prevent bacteria from becoming resistant. Delaying the use of antibiotics resulted in more than a 3/4 reduction in the prescribing of antibiotics.

Evidence that taking antibiotics leads to a speedy resolution of ear infections is mixed. This study showed that children given antibiotics had no significant reduction of pain or distress compared to those who were not. Parents of children who were treated immediately with antibiotics are more likely to believe in the effectiveness of the drugs, even though the infection can clear up on its own.

Delaying treatment and reducing the number of patients who receive antibiotics is important because, like all drugs, antibiotics do have side-effects. Also, the widespread prescription of these drugs may be increasing the risk of bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics. While it is difficult to fault parents who want to seek treatment for a child in pain, parents can help a child without resorting to antibiotics, the authors note.