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Ear infection - acute

  • Alternative Names

    Otitis media - acute; Infection - inner ear; Middle ear infection - acute


    Some ear infections will safely clear up on their own without antibiotics. Often, treating the pain and allowing the body time to heal itself is all that is needed:

    • Apply a warm cloth or warm water bottle to the affected ear.
    • Use over-the-counter pain relief drops for ears, or ask the doctor about prescription ear drops to relieve pain.
    • Take over-the-counter medications for pain or fever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Do NOT give aspirin to children.

    All children younger than 6 months with a fever or symptoms should see the doctor. Children who are older than 6 months may be watched at home if they do not have:

    • A fever higher than 102 °F
    • More severe pain or other symptoms
    • Other medical problems

    If there is no improvement or symptoms get worse, schedule an appointment with your health care provider to determine whether antibiotics are needed.


    A virus or bacteria can cause ear infections. Antibiotics will not help an infection caused by a virus. Many health care providers no longer prescribe antibiotics for every ear infection. However, all children younger than 6 months with an ear infection are treated with antibiotics.

    Your health care provider is more likely to prescribe antibiotics if:

    • Your child is under age 2
    • Has a fever
    • Appears sick
    • Is not improving over 24 to 48 hours

    Make sure you or your child takes the antibiotics every day and finishes all the medicine, rather than stopping when symptoms go away. If the antibiotics do not seem to be working within 48 to 72 hours, contact your doctor. You may need to switch to a different antibiotic.

    Amoxicillin is commonly the first choice. Other antibiotics that may be given are azithromycin or clarithromycin, cefdinir, cefuroxime, cefpodoxime, amoxicillin clavulanate (Augmentin), clindamycin, or ceftriaxone.

    Side effects of antibiotics include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Although rare, serious allergic reactions may also occur.

    Some children who have repeat infections that seem to go away in between may receive a smaller, daily dose of antibiotics to prevent new infections.


    If an infection does not go away with the usual medical treatment, or if a child has many ear infections over a short period of time, the doctor may recommend ear tubes.

    • In this procedure, a tiny tube is inserted into the eardrum, keeping open a small hole that allows air to get in so fluids can drain more easily. Tympanostomy tube insertion is done under general anesthesia.
    • Usually the tubes fall out by themselves. Those that don't fall out may be removed in your doctor's office.

    If the adenoids are enlarged, surgical removal of the adenoids may be considered, especially if you continue to have ear infections. Removing tonsils does not seem to help with ear infections.

    Support Groups

    Expectations (prognosis)

    Ear infections can be treated but may occur again in the future. They can be quite painful. If you or your child are prescribed an antibiotic, it is important to finish all your medication as instructed.


    Generally, an ear infection is a simple, nonserious condition without complications. Most children will have minor, temporary hearing loss during and right after an ear infection. This is due to fluid lingering in the ear.

    Fluid can remain behind the eardrums even after the infection has cleared.

    See also: Otitis media with effusion

    Other potential complications from otitis media include:

    • Ruptured or perforated eardrum
    • Chronic, recurrent ear infections
    • Enlarged adenoids or tonsils
    • Mastoiditis (an infection of the bones around the skull)
    • Meningitis (an infection of the brain)
    • Formation of an abscess or a cyst (called cholesteatoma) from chronic, recurrent ear infections
    • Speech or language delay in a child who suffers lasting hearing loss from multiple, recurrent ear infections

    Calling your health care provider

    Call your child's doctor if:

    • Pain, fever, or irritability do not improve within 24 to 48 hours
    • At the start, the child seems sicker than just an ear infection
    • Your child has a high fever or severe pain
    • Severe pain suddenly stops hurting -- this may indicate a ruptured eardrum
    • Symptoms worsen
    • New symptoms appear, especially severe headache, dizziness, swelling around the ear, or twitching of the face muscles

    For a child younger than 6 months, let the doctor know right away if the child has a fever, even if no other symptoms are present.