Objective: To determine the efficacy of antibiotics for prophylaxis of recurrent otitis media and treatment of otitis media with effusion (OME) in children.
Data sources: MEDLINE from 1966 through April 1993, textbooks, Current Contents, and bibliographies of selected articles.
Study selection: Thirty-three studies initially identified were reviewed by three blinded reviewers assessing study quality and suitability for inclusion. Twenty-seven met inclusion criteria for the meta-analyses.
Data extraction: We abstracted quantitative data and calculated rate differences (RDs) using tympanometry as the preferred outcome measure.
Data synthesis: Nine studies of antibiotic prophylaxis of recurrent otitis media with 958 subjects had an RD of 0.11 (95% confidence interval [Cl], 0.03 to 0.19) favoring antibiotic treatment. Twelve studies of short-term patient outcomes of OME with 1697 subjects had an RD favoring antibiotics of 0.16 (95% Cl, 0.03 to 0.29), while eight studies using the ear as the outcome measure with 2052 ears studied had an RD of 0.25 (95% Cl, 0.10 to 0.40). No significant difference was shown between placebo and antibiotics (RD, 0.06; 95% Cl, -0.03 to 0.14) in the eight studies of longer-term outcome of OME. Subgroup analyses by antibiotic grouping, duration of treatment, and duration of disease did not show significant differences.
Conclusions: Antibiotics appear to have beneficial but limited effect on recurrent otitis media and short-term resolution of OME. Longer-term benefit for OME has not been shown. The findings are limited by the failure of most studies to consider potential confounders and by inability to identify groups of patients most likely to benefit.