Ear Infection

Medically reviewed by Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS

Ear Infection Treatment

Middle ear infections often resolve themselves without medical treatment within 2–3 days. In some cases, however, infections can last longer—with fluid sometimes persisting in the middle ear for 6 weeks or more—even after antibiotic treatment.

There is a multitude of possible approaches to addressing an ear infection.

Watchful waiting

This is often the approach taken in adults with ear infections, as they generally don’t require medical treatment.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians18 recommend watchful waiting as one of the multiple options for:

  • Children of ages 6 to 23 months with mild middle ear pain in one ear that has lasted less than 48 hours and with a temperature lower than 102.2°F (39°C)
  • Children ages 24 months and older with mild middle ear pain in one or both ears that has lasted less than 48 hours and with a temperature lower than 102.2°F (39°C)

Children with frequent (chronic) ear infections or those who have persistent fluid accumulation in the middle ear should be monitored closely. It’s important that you discuss with your healthcare provider how frequently you should schedule follow-up appointments.

Antibiotic treatment

There is some evidence that antibiotic treatment can be helpful for certain cases of ear infection in children. After initial watchful waiting, your healthcare provider may recommend antibiotic treatment for ear infection in the following cases:

  • Children ages 6 months and older with moderate to severe pain in one or both ears for at least 48 hours or with a temperature of 102.2°F (39°C) or higher
  • Children ages 6 to 23 months with mild middle ear pain in one or both ears that has lasted less than 48 hours and with a temperature lower than 102.2°F (39°C)
  • Children 24 months and older with mild middle ear pain in one or both ears that has lasted less than 48 hours and with a temperature lower than 102.2°F (39°C)

Ear infection medicine

Children who are younger than 6 months old diagnosed with acute ear infections are more likely to be treated with antibiotics without the initial period of watchful waiting.

May be prescribed

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Pain management

Your healthcare provider may provide you with advice on how to improve the pain associated with an ear infection. This advice may include:

  • Taking pain medication: Your provider may recommend that you use over-the-counter pain medication—such as acetaminophen (generic Tylenol) or ibuprofen (generic Motrin) to relieve your discomfort.
  • Using anesthetic drops can help relieve pain when the eardrum doesn’t have any holes or tears in it. Options include topical antipyrine-benzocaine (generic Auralgan) or lidocaine (generic Benzotic, Pinnacaine).

Preventing the risk of ear infection in children

There are a number of ways in which you can help prevent your child from developing ear infections, including:

  • Not smoking around children: Studies have shown that second-hand smoke can cause children to be 2–3 times more likely to develop ear infections.
  • Breast feeding, when possible: Breast milk contains immunoglobulins (specifically IgA), which cannot be replicated in infant formula. Babies are born with low IgA and, when breastfed, receive antibodies and develop immune protection. This lowers their risk of contracting infections, including acute otitis media.
  • Observe any allergies: Mucus from allergic reactions can block the eustachian tubes and make ear infections more likely to occur.
  • Prevent colds: Preventing illnesses like the common cold can reduce the likelihood of ear infections.
  • Maintain good hygiene: It’s important that you and your child wash your hands frequently, as this is one of the most important ways to stop the spread of illnesses like colds that can cause ear infections.
  • Keep immunizations up to date: Some vaccines can help prevent ear infections—particularly the pneumococcal vaccine (Prevnar-13).

Myringotomy

Some children have repeated, long-term ear infections (chronic otitis media) or continuous fluid accumulation in the ear even after an infection has ended (otitis media with effusion).

In these cases, your healthcare provider may recommend that your child undergo a procedure to drain fluid buildup in the middle ear.

A myringotomy19 is an outpatient procedure in which a surgeon creates a small hole in the eardrum, allowing him or her to suction fluids out from the middle ear. A tiny tube—called a tympanostomy tube—is then placed in the opening in order to promote ventilation and prevent the buildup of more fluids.

Some tubes are meant to stay in place for 6 months to one year before falling out on their own, after which the eardrum generally closes up on its own, while others are designed to stay in place longer and may require surgical removal.

Swimmer’s ear treatment and prevention

Swimmer’s ear is generally treated with medicated ear drops. It’s important that you see your healthcare provider right away if you suspect yourself of having developed swimmer’s ear, as he or she can provide a diagnosis and recommend the proper course of treatment.

The following may help you avoid getting swimmer’s ear:

  • Keep your ears dry: Drying your ears thoroughly after swimming or bathing can help prevent remaining fluids from harboring bacteria. Dry only your outer ear (as going inside the ear can cause irritation and damage) using a soft towel or cloth in a gentle wiping motion.
  • Swim wisely: Keep an eye out for notices alerting swimmers of days when there are high bacterial counts in the water and avoid swimming on those days.
  • Avoid putting foreign objects in your ears: Avoiding scratching an itch or digging earwax from your ears with items like cotton swabs, paper clips, or hairpins. Doing so can pack material deeper into your ear canal, potentially irritating or breaking the thin skin inside your ear.
  • Protect your ears from irritants: Be sure to avoid getting products like hair sprays and dyes in your ears. You can use cotton balls to plug your ears while using potentially irritating products.
  • Use caution after ear infections or surgery: Talk to your healthcare provider before swimming if you have recently had an ear infection or ear surgery.

Ear infection remedies

There are some at-home remedies that can help relieve the discomfort associated with an ear infection or ear infection treatment.

Some ways to help yourself feel better include:

  • Getting lots of rest
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen (generic Tylenol) or ibuprofen (generic Motrin)

Using ear drops can be difficult and uncomfortable for some people. You can reduce the discomfort of cool ear drops by warming the bottle in your hands for a few minutes. Lying on your side with your infected ear up for a few minutes can help the medication travel through the full length of your ear canal.

If necessary, you may ask someone to help you put the drops in your ear.


Disclaimer: The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.

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