young boy being held by mom has his ear examined by a doctor

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When you should get care for an ear infection

  • Ear infections occur more often in children than adults
  • Ear infections may last a short time or can be chronic, last a long time and recur often.
  • Chronic ear infections can cause permanent damage to the middle or inner ear.

If you have kids, there’s a good chance he or she has had or will have at least one ear infection. Sometimes an ear infection will go away on its own, in just a few days, but sometimes they are chronic, last a long time or recur and may need antibiotics to treat the infection. Read on to find out how to spot an ear infection and when to seek treatment.

What is an ear infection?

An ear infection is the presence of fluid in your middle ear accompanied by symptoms of ear drum inflammation and bulging. Most ear infections effect the middle or inner ear. Ear infections are not contagious; however, the virus that often proceeds an ear infection can be. Some ear infections that occur on the outside of the ear are a different type of infection, known as “swimmer’s ear”, and are treated differently. Learn more about swimmer’s ear.

Symptoms of an ear infection:

Although ear infections are more common in children, they can also happen in adults. Symptoms include:

  • ear pain (often worse when lying down)
  • fever
  • increased fussiness
  • loss of appetite
  • pulling on the ear
  • temporary hearing loss (most common in older children)
  • vomiting or diarrhea.

The risk of an ear infection increases with:

  • bottle or pacifier use
  • changes in air pressure (during air travel)
  • daycare attendance
  • recent or current upper respiratory infection
  • tobacco smoke and air pollution.

Treatment for an ear infection:

Sometimes an ear infection will go away on its own, other times antibiotics are needed. To minimize complications, it is important that you seek treatment if symptoms are severe or last more than 1-2 days. If your child is six months or younger and he or she shows signs of an ear infection, or has fever above 102 with severe pain, seek care immediately.

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At home remedies for an ear infection:

The following at home treatment can help make your child more comfortable when they have an ear infection:

  • a warm cloth applied to the ear
  • over-the- counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen (please take out ear drops)
  • for adults: decongestants such as Sudafed.

 

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