Ear Infections

An ear infection (known as acute otitis media) is an infection of the middle ear. Ear infections are common. They are not medical emergencies but can be painful for your child.

Here are some tips to make your child more comfortable and avoid unnecessary trips to the emergency room or an urgent care center.

Symptoms

Ear infections often happen when your child has a cold, which causes the nose or throat to swell. The swelling blocks the tube connecting the ear and the nose, causing ear pain.

Ear infections happen more often in young children, who have small, short ear tubes that get blocked more easily than those of older children and adults.

An ear infection usually starts during a cold. Symptoms include:

Children younger than 1 year old might be fussy and cranky if their ears hurt.

Treatment

Comfort your child by following these tips:

If the pain starts at night, call your child's doctor in the morning or call the Consulting Nurse Service. You usually don't need to take your child to an urgent care center.

Antibiotics

Your child's doctor might prescribe antibiotics. However, antibiotics are not needed for all ear infections and will not cure a cold. A cold will go away on its own.

The most common antibiotics used to treat ear infections are amoxicillin and augmentin. Sometimes your child might get another ear infection soon after the first one. Your child's doctor might order the same antibiotic as before, which usually works for the new infection.

Ear pain and other symptoms might improve after two or three days of antibiotics. However, to cure the infection, make sure your child finishes all of the antibiotic that was prescribed.

When To Call a Doctor

Call your child's doctor if:

An ear infection can cause a child's eardrum to rupture or tear, which will relieve the pressure. Signs of a rupture include sudden drainage from the ear with relief from pain. If you think your child's eardrum has ruptured, call your child's doctor. After medical center hours, call the Consulting Nurse Service.

Although the rupture will usually heal on its own, your child's doctor might recommend treatment such as giving your child antibiotic ear drops.

Prevention

To prevent ear infections:


Clinical review by Emily Chao, DO
Group Health
Reviewed 02/15/2012