Antibiotics for otitis media with effusion (OME) in children

Caroline A. Mulvaney, Kevin Galbraith, Katie E. Webster, Mridul Rana, Rachel Connolly, Tal Marom, Mat Daniel, Roderick P. Venekamp, Anne G.M. Schilder, Samuel MacKeith

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Otitis media with effusion (OME) is an accumulation of fluid in the middle ear cavity, common amongst young children. The fluid may cause hearing loss. When persistent, it may lead to developmental delay, social difficulty and poor quality of life. Management of OME includes watchful waiting, autoinflation, medical and surgical treatment. Antibiotics are sometimes used to treat any bacteria present in the effusion, or associated biofilms. Objectives: To assess the effects (benefits and harms) of oral antibiotics for otitis media with effusion (OME) in children. Search methods: The Cochrane ENT Information Specialist searched the Cochrane ENT Register, CENTRAL, Ovid MEDLINE, Ovid Embase, Web of Science, ClinicalTrials.gov, ICTRP and additional sources for published and unpublished studies to 20 January 2023. Selection criteria: We included randomised controlled trials and quasi-randomised trials in children aged 6 months to 12 years with unilateral or bilateral OME. We included studies that compared oral antibiotics with either placebo or no treatment. Data collection and analysis: We used standard Cochrane methods. Our primary outcomes were determined following a multi-stakeholder prioritisation exercise and were: 1) hearing, 2) otitis media-specific quality of life and 3) anaphylaxis. Secondary outcomes were: 1) persistence of OME, 2) adverse effects, 3) receptive language skills, 4) speech development, 5) cognitive development, 6) psychosocial skills, 7) listening skills, 8) generic health-related quality of life, 9) parental stress, 10) vestibular function and 11) episodes of acute otitis media. We used GRADE to assess the certainty of evidence for each outcome. Although we included all measures of hearing assessment, the proportion of children who returned to normal hearing was our preferred method to assess hearing, due to challenges in interpreting the results of mean hearing thresholds. Main results: We identified 19 completed studies that met our inclusion criteria (2581 participants). They assessed a variety of oral antibiotics (including penicillins, cephalosporins, macrolides and trimethoprim), with most studies using a 10- to 14-day treatment course. We had some concerns about the risk of bias in all studies included in this review. Here we report our primary outcomes and main secondary outcome, at the longest reported follow-up time. Antibiotics versus placebo. We included 11 studies for this comparison, but none reported all of our outcomes of interest and limited meta-analysis was possible. Hearing. One study found that more children may return to normal hearing by two months (resolution of the air-bone gap) after receiving antibiotics as compared with placebo, but the evidence is very uncertain (Peto odds ratio (OR) 9.59, 95% confidence interval (CI) 3.51 to 26.18; 20/49 children who received antibiotics returned to normal hearing versus 0/37 who received placebo; 1 study, 86 participants; very low-certainty evidence). Disease-specific quality of life. No studies assessed this outcome. Presence/persistence of OME. At 6 to 12 months of follow-up, the use of antibiotics compared with placebo may slightly reduce the number of children with persistent OME, but the confidence intervals were wide, and the evidence is very uncertain (risk ratio (RR) 0.89, 95% CI 0.68 to 1.17; 48% versus 54%; number needed to treat (NNT) 17; 2 studies, 324 participants; very low-certainty evidence). Adverse event: anaphylaxis. No studies provided specific data on anaphylaxis. Three of the included studies (448 children) did report adverse events in sufficient detail to assume that no anaphylactic reactions occurred, but the evidence is very uncertain (very low-certainty evidence). Antibiotics versus no treatment. We included eight studies for this comparison, but very limited meta-analysis was possible. Hearing. One study found that the use of antibiotics compared to no treatment may result in little to no difference in final hearing threshold at three months (mean difference (MD) -5.38 dB HL, 95% CI -9.12 to -1.64; 1 study, 73 participants; low-certainty evidence). The only data identified on the return to normal hearing were reported at 10 days of follow-up, which we considered to be too short to accurately reflect the efficacy of antibiotics. Disease-specific quality of life. No studies assessed this outcome. Presence/persistence of OME. Antibiotics may reduce the proportion of children who have persistent OME at up to three months of follow-up, when compared with no treatment (RR 0.64, 95% CI 0.50 to 0.80; 6 studies, 542 participants; low-certainty evidence). Adverse event: anaphylaxis. No studies provided specific data on anaphylaxis. Two of the included studies (180 children) did report adverse events in sufficient detail to assume that no anaphylactic reactions occurred, but the evidence is very uncertain (very low-certainty evidence). Authors' conclusions: The evidence for the use of antibiotics for OME is of low to very low certainty. Although the use of antibiotics compared to no treatment may have a slight beneficial effect on the resolution of OME at up to three months, the overall impact on hearing is very uncertain. The long-term effects of antibiotics are unclear and few of the studies included in this review reported on potential harms. These important endpoints should be considered when weighing up the potential short- and long-term benefits and harms of antibiotic treatment in a condition with a high spontaneous resolution rate.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD015254
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Volume2023
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - 23 Oct 2023
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)

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