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13 Things You Should Know About Ear Infections

October 01, 2018
Ear infections are one of the most common illnesses in children. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), five out of six children will have at least one ear infection by the age of 3. Adults have them less frequently, but they can be more serious. Here’s how to identify and treat ear infections.

Ear Infection Infographic

Infographic Script
What Is an Ear Infection?

Three types of ear infections occur most often:

  • Acute otitis media (AOM): The middle ear is infected, swollen, and traps fluid behind the eardrum. Ear ache can occur, often with a fever. This can be a result of a cold and is usually caused by bacteria or viruses.
  • Otitis media with effusion (OME): Fluid that is not infected remains in the middle ear space, and can occur after an ear infection. It usually goes away in a month or slightly longer. There may be no symptoms, but a doctor can view the fluid with a special instrument.
  • Acute otitis externa (AOE): This type of middle ear infection affects the outer ear and ear canal and is also known as swimmer's ear.
Ear Infection Signs & Symptoms

In children, signs may include:

  • Pain
  • Pulling or tugging at ears
  • Fussiness, crying and irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fluid draining from ear
  • Balance problems
  • Difficulty hearing or responding
  • Fever of 100°F or more
  • Headache
  • Appetite loss

Adult ear infections can have serious consequences and should be seen by a doctor quickly. Symptoms typically include:

  • Pain
  • Fluid drainage
  • Loss of hearing
Ear Infection Treatment
  • OME isn't helped by antibiotics, while AOM may clear up its own or may require antibiotics. AOE is typically treated with antibiotic ear drops.
  • According to the Mayo Clinic, antibiotics may be appropriate for ear infections so see your doctor or go to urgent care for any of the following:
    • Children 6 months or older with moderate to severe ear pain for at least 48 hours, or a temperature of 102.2°F or higher
    • Children 6 to 23 months with mild inner ear pain for less than 48 hours, and a temperature less than 102.2°F
    • Children 24 months and older with mild inner ear pain for less than 48 hours, and a temperature more than 102.2°F
    • Adults should see a doctor if symptoms persist for more than 3 days.
  • Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medications for symptom relief such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain or fever.
  • Recurrent problems may require draining fluid from the ear or even surgery. These may be performed as an outpatient procedure or an inpatient procedure if the problem is more complex and requires anesthesia and follow-up monitoring. Your doctor will inform you of the choices, based upon your particular condition.