Ear infections

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.

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, they 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
  • 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.

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 instructions. Do not give ibuprofen to a child younger than 6 months old.
  • Holding a warm washcloth over their 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

Related resources

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education, Guide for the Care of Children: Ages Birth to 5, sixth edition, ped-ah-91554
First Published: 02/01/2010
Last Reviewed: 11/16/2022