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What is an ear infection?

Ear infections can affect the ear canal or the middle ear. The infection can be from a virus or bacteria, or both. 

When is it an Ear Infection?

Ear Canal Infections

Other names for this type of infection is Otitis Externa or Swimmer’s Ear. This can happen when water sits in the ear for too much time, and is common with children who swim a lot.

A common symptom is pain in the ear when pulling back the ear. 

Middle Ear Infections

Doctors call this Otitis Media (AOM). A typical middle ear infection in a child begins with either a viral infection (such as a common cold) or unhealthy bacterial growth. Sometimes the middle ear becomes inflamed and causes fluid buildup behind the eardrum. Once the infection takes hold, it’s harder for a child’s body to fight it than it is for a healthy adult’s.

The symptoms of an ear infection may be hard to detect. A child who constantly tugs or pulls at the ear could be giving a signal that their ear is causing pain.

Other symptoms can include:

More crying than usual, especially when lying down

Trouble sleeping or hearing

Fever or headache

Fluid coming out of the ears

Doctors can use special instruments to see if an infection is present.

How are ear infections treated?

Treatment for swimmer’s ear is usually with antibiotic drops, prescribed by your doctor.

Middle ear infections caused by a virus usually goes away on its own and does not benefit from antibiotics.

Bacterial may not need antibiotics in many cases because the body’s immune system can fight off the infection without help from antibiotics, but sometimes antibiotics are needed.

Watchful Waiting

Mild AOM often will get better on its own without antibiotic treatment, so your healthcare professional may recommend watchful waiting before prescribing antibiotics to your loved one. This means that your provider may wait a few days before deciding whether to prescribe antibiotics, while treating the symptoms of AOM. Watchful waiting gives your child’s own immune system time to fight off the infection first before starting antibiotics. If your child doesn’t get better in 2–3 days or gets worse, your healthcare professional can recommend starting antibiotics.

Another form of watchful waiting is delayed prescribing. This means that your healthcare professional may give you an antibiotic prescription, but ask you to wait 2–3 days to see if your child is still sick with fever, ear pain, or other symptoms before filling the prescription.

Symptom Relief

There are ways to relieve symptoms associated with ear infections – like ear pain – whether or not antibiotics are needed. Consider using acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) to relieve pain or fever. Ask your healthcare professional or pharmacist what medications are safe for your child to take.

Antibiotics, such as amoxicillin, are used to treat severe ear infections or ear infections that last longer than 2–3 days.

If your child has a fever of 102.2°F (39°C) or higher, discharge or fluid coming from the ear, symptoms are much worse, or symptoms last for more than two or three days for AOM, you should contact your healthcare professional. If your child has symptoms of ear infection for more than one month or hearing loss, contact your healthcare professional.

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