How would my child be treated for a middle ear infection?

Dr. Irene Hendrickson, MD

Many middle ear infections are caused by a virus and get better without treatment. Viral ear infections are treated based on your child’s symptoms. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) are typically suggested for pain and fever control. If the infection turns into a bacterial infection, the doctor may prescribe a 10-day course of antibiotics.

While most ear infections heal without problems, very severe infections can cause permanent damage to the eardrum or other parts of the ear, potentially causing hearing loss. When fluid is trapped in the child’s middle ear for three months in a row, surgery to place ear drainage tubes may be considered.
This content originally appeared online at UCLA Health.

If your child has a middle ear infection, your child's doctor may give him an antibiotic. Your child's doctor may not recommend antibiotics based on your child's overall medical condition. If your child's doctor recommends antibiotics, it is very important that your child take this medicine until it is completely gone, even though he may seem better after a couple of days. This will keep the infection from returning. If your child has severe pain, a heating pad next to the ear might help. Pain relievers, such as Tylenol or ibuprofen, may also help.

Do not use aspirin. Do not put anything in your child's ear, such as warm oil, unless recommended by your doctor.

Follow all the doctor's directions. It is very important to keep the follow-up appointment with your doctor, especially if your child has many middle ear infections.

If your child does not seem better within a few days, call your doctor. More treatment may be needed. Hearing loss can result if his ear infection is not treated promptly or if medication is not taken until it is completely gone. He can go back to school or day care when he feels better. Middle ear infections are not contagious.

Your child’s doctor will talk with you about specific care for your child. Some general guidelines include:

  • Give acetaminophen (Tylenol® or less costly brand) if advised by your child’s doctor for fever or pain. Follow the directions on the box carefully or ask your child’s doctor how much medicine to give.
  • Do not give your child more than 5 doses of acetaminophen in a 24-hour period.
  • Do not give acetaminophen to babies less than 3 months of age without a doctor's advice
  • Give plenty of fluids.
  • Give other medicines as ordered by your child’s doctor.
  • Keep your child away from cigarette smoke and odor.
  • Do not allow your child to take a bottle to bed.
  • Have your child’s ears rechecked as told by your doctor.
  • Never stick a cotton swab or other pointed object in your child’s ear to clean it out. This can harm the ear.

Your child’s doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat a middle ear infection. If your child’s doctor has prescribed antibiotics it is important for your child to complete all medication and return for a recheck if directed. Other home management steps include over the counter pain medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.