With this condition, the middle ear becomes infected and inflamed. The middle ear is located behind the eardrum.
Bacteria and viruses cause this condition, such as:
These factors increase your chance of developing middle ear infection:
Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors.
The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Most middle ear infections can be diagnosed by looking into the ear with a lighted instrument, called an otoscope.
The doctor will see if there is fluid or pus behind the eardrum. A small tube and bulb may be attached to the otoscope. This is to blow a light puff of air into the ear. The puff helps the doctor see if the eardrum is moving normally.
Other tests may include:
Antibiotics are commonly used to treat ear infections. Examples include:
Since bacteria develop a resistance to antibiotics, doctors may take a "wait and see" approach. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic for your child and ask you to use the medication if the pain or fever lasts for a certain number of days. This approach has been effective.
While antibiotics may be effective, it is also important to keep in mind these medicines can cause a number of side effects. Nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhea are common. Also, a person may have an allergic reaction to the antibiotic. It is important to discuss the risks and benefits of taking antibiotics with your doctor.
A virus causes some ear infections. This type will not go away faster with antibiotics. Most middle ear infections (including bacterial ones) tend to improve on their own in 2-3 days.
Pain relievers can help reduce pain, fever, and irritability. These include:
Decongestants and antihistamines are not recommended to treat an ear infection.
In children, ear drops that have a local anaesthetic (eg, ametocaine, benzocaine, or lidocaine) can help decrease pain, especially when the drops are used with oral pain relievers. If there is a chance that the eardrum has ruptured, do not use ear drops.
Myringotomy is surgery done to open the eardrum. A tiny cut is made in the eardrum to drain fluid and pus.
If you are diagnosed with an ear infection, follow your doctor's instructions.
To reduce the chance of getting an ear infection:
American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Caring for Kids
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Last reviewed September 2012 by Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 09/30/2012