Mom comforts her baby who has an ear infection.

My Child Has an Ear Infection. Now What?

If your child has an ear infection, you’re not alone! Ear infections are the most common diagnosis made during children’s visits to the doctor. While these infections can and do occur at any age (adults included), they’re most common during the first two to four years of life.

What are common symptoms of an ear infection?
Symptoms can range from fussiness, crying and/or tugging at the ear to fever, significant ear pain and even the drainage of pus into the ear canal. In general, an accurate diagnosis of an ear infection requires a visit to a health professional. Your child’s doctor should be your first stop if you suspect that something is going on inside your child’s ears.

So, your child has an ear infection. Now what?
It’s important to involve your child’s healthcare provider regarding concerns and symptoms. Here are considerations that will help you and your child’s doctor when dealing with ear infection symptoms:

  • Wait and see. Most middle ear infections actually go away within two to three days, even without treatment. Typically, the younger the child, the more frequent the ear infections, and/or the worse the symptoms, the more likely treatment will be recommended. For older children with minimal or no symptoms, the best course of action may simply be to let the infection run its course.
  • Treat the symptoms. A very significant aspect of treating ear infections is managing the symptoms. Pain and discomfort are usually the most obvious, but fever or other symptoms may be associated with an ear infection as well. Adequate treatment of any associated pain or fever with over-the-counter medication often makes additional treatment, such as antibiotics, unnecessary.
  • Antibiotics. Ear infections are the most common reason for prescribing antibiotics to children. They are typically given in the form of a 10-day course for those children who meet certain criteria such as young age, long-lasting or significant symptoms, and/or recurrent infections. That said antibiotics only treat bacterial infections, but have no effect on viral infections, or on getting rid of middle ear fluid. They also do not provide much help in reducing the pain associated with an acute ear infection. Bottom line: always be sure to discuss whether antibiotics are necessary with your child’s doctor.
  • Follow-up. With or without treatment, younger children are generally recommended to have a follow-up “ear check” visit to make sure the infection, along with any remaining fluid in the middle ear, has cleared up.

I hope these tips will help the next time your little one starts to complain of an earache. For more information on treating ear infections in children, watch this video from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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