• By Micah Dorfner

Do Ear Infections Always Need to be Treated with Antibiotics?

January 26, 2016

male patient with doctor checking for ear infection
Many parents bring their children with ear infections to Express Care, Urgent Care and even the Emergency Department  to request antibiotics. But, sometimes, antibiotics aren’t the right choice. Most ear infections cure themselves without the help of antibiotics.

"An ear infection is a bacterial or viral infection that affects the ear. It becomes painful when buildups of fluid and inflammation occur in the air-filled space behind the eardrum," says Leanna Munoz, Mayo Clinic Health System nurse practitioner. "Signs and symptoms of infection often quickly show."

Munoz says a great way to tell if your child has an ear infection is if he or she starts showing the following symptoms:

  • Pain in the ear, especially while lying down
  • Pulling or tugging the ear
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty hearing or responding to sounds
  • Fever or headache

Generally, an ear infection will improve within the first couple days and clear up within one to two weeks without any treatment. It is recommended to use the wait-and-see approach for:

  • Children age 6 to 23 months with mild inner-ear pain in one ear for less than 48 hours and a temperature less than 102.2 F
  • Children age 2 and older with mild inner-ear pain in one or both ears for less than 48 hours and a temperature less than 102.2 F

"Home remedies can help manage your child’s pain," adds Munoz. "Try placing a warm, damp washcloth over the affected ear. Most providers recommend over-the-counter medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to relieve pain. Use these medications as directed on the label."

Your medical provider can suggest the best treatment for your child. Antibiotics may be beneficial for certain children with ear infections. Your provider can explain the potential side effects and concerns about antibiotics creating strains of resistant disease. If antibiotics are prescribed, be sure to use the entire antibiotic as directed. Failing to do so can result in recurring infection and resistance of bacteria to antibiotic medication.

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