updated 3/3/2004 2:42:08 PM ET 2004-03-03T19:42:08

Two leading medical groups are expected to recommend this spring that doctors stop treating most middle ear infections in children with antibiotics, federal health officials said Tuesday at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

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The move contradicts years of pediatric practice and is expected to disappoint weary parents of screaming, infected toddlers.

Most antibiotics prescribed to children are for treating ear infections. Health officials believe if they can reduce child antibiotic use for ear infections, then they can help reduce the rise of antibiotic-resistant germs created by overuse of the drugs.

“It will mark a dramatic change in appropriate antibiotic use,” said Dr. Richard Besser of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians must be formally approved by the medical bodies before they will be published.

As the guidelines are currently proposed, doctors would only prescribe antibiotics for children with serious middle ear infections and observe the milder cases. About 80 percent of children will recover on their own without the drugs, Besser said.

A specific definition of what constitutes an ear infection, known as acute otitis media, also is expected to reduce antibiotic overuse for the infections.

“Antibiotics only will be considered if it’s truly acute otitis media and not every abnormal-appearing ear,” said Dr. Allan Lieberthal, co-chairman of the medical groups’ committee reviewing the guidelines change.

Medical studies have found the drugs do very little for a child’s ear infection pain. Common painkillers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofren may be used instead of antibiotics, said Lieberthal, also a pediatrician for Kaiser Permanente in Panorama City, Calif.

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