How Do I Treat an Ear Infection?

Published: June 05, 2023
Autumn Pinard
By Autumn Pinard, PharmD, MBA

An ear infection, also known as otitis media, is a common ailment among children. It is usually caused by bacteria and occurs due to fluid buildup in the ear drum (also known as your inner or middle ear). Another type of ear infection is called “swimmer’s ear.” It is a bacterial infection of the outer ear.


How do I know if my child has an ear infection?
If your child has ear pain, fever, fussiness, or irritability, rubs or tugs at their ear, has trouble sleeping, or has balance problems, it could mean they have an ear infection. These symptoms can be mild to severe, making your child uncomfortable and upset. It is important to watch for these signs, especially if your child recently had a cold or respiratory infection.

Will it go away on its own?
In many cases, ear infections may resolve on their own. Your immune system can fight off the infection naturally. This approach is called "watchful waiting," where you wait 2-3 days to see if the symptoms improve before considering antibiotics. Another option is "delayed prescribing," where your healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic, but ask you to wait and see if the body can fight off the infection on its own before taking the medication.

When should I see a doctor?
It's important to see a doctor if your child has a fever of 102.2oF or higher, pus, discharge, or fluid coming out of the ear, worsening symptoms, symptoms that last more than 2-3 days, or if there is any hearing loss. A healthcare provider can properly diagnose the ear infection and recommend appropriate treatment.

Pharmacist Tips:

  • Encourage your child to get plenty of rest to allow their body to heal.
  • Drink lots of fluid to help thin the mucus and relieve congestion.
  • Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to treat the pain. For children younger than 6 months, acetaminophen is usually recommended. For children 6 months or older, acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used, following appropriate dosing instructions.
  • Antibiotics may be prescribed by your healthcare provider. If prescribed, make sure your child takes the antibiotics as directed. A common antibiotic for ear infections is Amoxicillin, unless your child has a known allergy or has received it in the past 30 days.

Ear infections often go away on their own because your immune system can fight them off. Over-the-counter medications are often helpful in pain and fever symptoms. If an ear infection lasts for more than 2 to 3 days, it’s important to see your doctor right away so that you can be prescribed an antibiotic to treat the infection.


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