Ear Infections | Treatment


Learn More About Ear Infections Treatment

Middle Ear Infections and Ear Tube Surgery

What is the treatment for ear infections?

The treatment for ear infections may include any of the following:

  • If your doctor thinks the infection is caused by bacteria, he or she may prescribe an antibiotic. (Antibiotics don't work for infections caused by viruses.) It's very important to follow the directions for giving your child the medicine.
  • Pain relievers like acetaminophen (brand names: Children's or Infants' Tylenol) and ibuprofen (brand names: Children's Advil or Children's Motrin) can help make your child feel better and reduce fever. Never give your child aspirin. Aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome. Reye's syndrome is a serious illness that can lead to death. Doctors recommend that parents should not give aspirin to children younger than 18 years of age.
  • A warm (not hot) heating pad held over the ear can also help relieve pain from the earache.
  • Your doctor may also prescribe ear drops to relieve pain.

FDA Warning

The. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises against the use of ear candles. Ear candles can cause serious injuries and there is no evidence to support their effectiveness. For more information, please visit the FDA Web site.

How is otitis media with effusion treated?

If your child is older than 6 months of age and only has mild symptoms, the best treatment is to let the fluid go away on its own. You can give your child an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, (one brand: Children's Tylenol) if he or she is uncomfortable. A warm, moist cloth placed over the ear may also help.

Usually the fluid goes away in 2 to 3 months, and hearing returns to normal. Your doctor may want to check your child again at this time to see if fluid is still present.

Will my child need antibiotics?

Your child may need antibiotics if fluid is still there after a few months and is causing hearing loss or problems in both ears. For this reason, your child's ears should be checked a few months after an ear infection. If the fluid is still there, a hearing test may be the next step. Your doctor may also recommend antibiotics if your child is under 6 months of age or gets frequent middle ear infections.

Why not just try antibiotics right now?

Giving your child unnecessary antibiotics can be harmful. After each course of antibiotics, the germs in the nose and throat are more likely to become resistant. Resistant germs can't be killed by the usual antibiotics. More expensive and powerful antibiotics have to be used. Some of these antibiotics must be given in the hospital and their side effects can be very unpleasant or even dangerous. Since fluid in the ears doesn't usually bother children, it's better to wait and only give antibiotics when they are necessary.

What if the fluid doesn’t go away on its own?

If the fluid stays for more than a few months, your doctor may want to check your child's hearing. Your doctor may recommend ear tubes (also called tympanostomy tubes) to drain the fluid. Ear tubes may also decrease the number of ear infections your child gets.

What are ear tubes?

Ear tubes are tiny plastic tubes that help balance the pressure in your child's ears. They allow air into the middle ear so that fluid can drain out down the eustachian tube. They're put into the eardrum (which is also called the tympanic membrane) during surgery and stay in place for an average of 6 to 9 months.

The tubes are usually left in place until they fall out on their own or your doctor decides your child no longer needs them. Sometimes, another set of tubes may be needed.

Placing tubes in the ears requires an operation and has some risks. Your child will need general anesthesia when the tube is inserted. Your doctor will talk with you about the risks if he or she thinks your child needs ear tubes.

How is swimmer's ear treated?

Your doctor will look in your ear canal and remove any drainage or pus. Your doctor will check your eardrum to make sure there's no other infection. Most swimmer's ear infections can be treated with ear drops that contain antibiotics to fight infection and medicine to reduce itching and swelling. You can also take an over-the-counter pain medicine to relieve pain, such as ibuprofen (some brands: Advil, Motrin).

How should I use ear drops?

Your doctor will tell you how long and how often to use your ear drops. Warm the bottle in your hands before putting the drops in your ear. Using warm ear drops may prevent discomfort when the drops go in. Moving the earlobe back and forth after putting the drops in will also help the medicine go deep into the ear canal.

What else can I do for swimmer’s ear?

Follow your doctor's directions carefully and use all of your medicine(s). Swimmer's ear can be hard to treat. Here are some things that will help you get better:

  • Keep your ear as dry as possible for 7 to 10 days. Take baths instead of showers. Try to keep water out of your ears when you wash your hair. Use a cotton ball to protect your ear from water while bathing (but don't stuff the cotton into the ear canal). Don't swim or play other water sports. If you're on a swim team, ask your doctor before you return to swimming.
  • Don't put anything except the prescribed medicine in your ears. Scratching and rubbing will only make swimmer's ear worse.

Symptoms are usually much better in 3 days. They should be completely gone in 10 days. If you're not better by then, call your doctor.


See a list of resources used in the development of this information.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 07/13
Created: 01/99

Learn More About Ear Infections Treatment

Middle Ear Infections and Ear Tube Surgery