Introduction: We hypothesised that general practitioners and ENT specialists manage discharging ears differently. This study was designed to investigate this further.
Methods and materials: Postal questionnaires were sent to all general practitioners in the Birmingham area and all UK consultants on the British Association of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery address list.
Results and discussion: In the presence of an intact tympanic membrane, 99 per cent of consultants and 90 per cent of general practitioners would use topical antibiotics. In the presence of a perforated tympanic membrane, 97 per cent of consultants would continue to use topical antibiotics, compared with only 43 per cent of general practitioners. This was attributed to a fear of ototoxicity. If a topical non-ototoxic antibiotic of proven efficacy could be made available, 93 per cent of consultants and 88 per cent of general practitioners in this study would seriously consider using it as first line treatment.
Conclusion: The majority of general practitioners would not use topical antibiotics in the presence of a perforated tympanic membrane. Most doctors would consider using a non-ototoxic topical antibiotic as first line treatment should one be made available.