What to do if you suspect your child has an ear infection

January 30, 2013 Gabriela Sanchez, MD

Ear infections are the most common illness in kids. Almost every child will have at least one ear infection by the age of 5. What do you do when your child complains of ear pain?

Ear pain in children is most often caused by a middle ear infection. These infections often follow an upper respiratory illness, like a cold or the flu. Common symptoms include fever, ear pain and irritability, like not sleeping through the night. It is possible for the buildup of pressure from fluid and infection behind the eardrum to cause the eardrum to rupture. In this situation you will most likely see drainage from the ear.

What should you do if you suspect your child has an ear infection?

  • Treat the pain. Ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are best.
  • Have a doctor look in your child’s ear to confirm an ear infection.
  • Decide with your doctor if a middle ear infection should be treated with antibiotics. Many children get over ear infections without antibiotics, so this is an option in some kids but they need close follow up with a physician.
  • Your doctor may also prescribe topical anesthetic drops if ibuprofen and acetaminophen are not providing enough pain relief.

After an ear infection it is not uncommon to have fluid remain behind the eardrum for up to 3 months. This usually causes hearing loss because the eardrum is unable to vibrate normally. If you suspect your child has ongoing hearing loss it is important to discuss this with your pediatrician. Prolonged hearing loss can negatively affect speech and language development. Recurrent ear infections or longstanding middle ear fluid with hearing loss are reasons why your pediatrician may refer you to an ENT to discuss ear tubes.


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