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Ear infections

  • An ear infection (otitis media) affects your child's middle ear (behind the eardrum). It can be caused by a bacteria or virus and often follows a viral infection (such as a cold). Ear infections are not contagious.

    Did you know?

    • Feeding your infant while lying flat, propping the bottle, using a pacifier and giving your baby a bottle to suck on while in the crib all increase the chance of an ear infection.
    • Daycare and exposure to secondhand smoke can also increase the chance.

    Ear infections are common in young children and usually affect children younger than 3 years old.

    Your child can get ear infections more than once. If the infection is caused by a bacteria, antibiotics may help.

    Symptoms of an ear infection

    If your child has an ear infection, she may:

    • have a fever (ear infections don't always cause a fever)
    • cry often or be irritable
    • tug at the ear
    • be unable to hear well
    • have drainage from the ear

    How to treat an ear infection

    • Your health care provider may prescribe antibiotics or eardrops. Be sure to use all of the prescription, even if your child feels better after a few doses.
    • Use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) for fever or mild discomfort. Follow your health care provider's or the package directions. Do not give ibuprofen to a child younger than 6 months old.
    • Holding a warm washcloth over her ear may help relieve the pain.

    When to call your health care provider

    Call your health care provider for an appointment if your child:

    • is uncomfortable or can't sleep
    • has blood or drainage coming from the ear
    • has been taking antibiotics for 72 hours (three days) and isn't getting better
  • Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Guide for the Care of Children: Ages Birth to 5 Years Old, fifth edition. To avoid awkward sentences, instead of referring to your child as "he/she" or "him/her," this guide will alternate between "he" or she" and "him" or "her."
    Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts, including the Pediatric Department of Allina Health Coon Rapids Clinic
    First published: 02/01/2010
    Last reviewed: 01/01/2016