Ear Infections: Treatment
An ear infection is a bacterial infection of the middle ear (the space behind the eardrum). It's the most common complication of a cold. Here are some things you should know about ear infections:
- First: Ear infections are terribly common, occurring once in 70% of children and repeatedly in 25%.
- Second: The peak age range for ear infections is 6 months to 2 years; but an ear infection can occur at any age.
- Third: Unlike colds, they’re not contagious.
- Fourth: Ear infections need an oral antibiotic, but earaches are not an emergency. If it's late in the evening, call your healthcare provider in the morning. You can usually help your child become comfortable enough to return to sleep by giving him a good dose of acetaminophen. Ibuprofen may work even better, if you have it. A few drops of olive oil or special pain-relieving eardrops can also reduce the pain by coating the infected and sensitive eardrum. Don't use eardrops, however, if your child has ear tubes or ear discharge.
- Fifth: A draining ear is not serious. Drainage just means that pressure has caused a small tear in the ear drum. The tear relieves the pressure and the pain. This small tear usually heals quickly and without complications once antibiotics are started.
- Finally: If your child has an ear infection she can go outside and does not need to cover the ears. Swimming is permitted as long as there is no tear in the eardrum or drainage from the ear. Air travel or a trip to the mountains is safe. Just have your child swallow fluids, suck on a pacifier, or chew gum during descent to help the middle ear adjust to changes in atmospheric pressure.
If you think your child may need to be seen now, call your healthcare provider for advice.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D. FAAP
Last Review: 6/1/2008
Last Revised: 6/1/2000
Copyright 1994-2008 Barton Schmitt, M.D. Parent Advice Messages.