Has UK guidance affected general practitioner antibiotic prescribing for otitis media in children?

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Since 1997, UK guidance has advocated limiting antibiotic prescribing for otitis media. It is not known whether this has influenced general practitioner prescribing practice.

Aims and objectives

To investigate the trends in diagnoses and antibiotic prescribing for otitis media in children in relation to guidance.


We used the General Practice Research Database to conduct time-trend analyses of diagnoses and antibiotic prescribing for otitis media in 3 months to 15 years old, between 1990 and 2006.


A total of 1 210 237 otitis media episodes were identified in 464 845 children; two-thirds (68%; 818 006) received antibiotics. Twenty-two percent (267 335) were classified as acute, 85% (227 335) of which received antibiotics. Overall, antibiotic prescribing for otitis media declined by 51% between 1995 and 2000. Much of this reduction predated guidance. During this period, prescribing for otitis media coded as acute increased by 22%. Children diagnosed with acute otitis media were more likely to receive antibiotics than otitis media not coded as acute (P < 0.05). From 2000 prescribing plateaued, despite publication of further guidance. Otitis media diagnoses consistently paralleled prescribing.


The reduction in antibiotic prescribing for otitis media predated guidance. The simultaneous decrease in prescribing for non-acute otitis media and increase for acute otitis media suggest diagnostic transfer, possibly to justify the decision to treat.

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