Ear Infection: Brief Version

What is an ear infection?

Your child's ear may hurt when the space behind the eardrum is infected. Your child may also:

  • Be cranky.
  • Not be able to sleep well.
  • Have trouble hearing.
  • Be dizzy.

Most children will have at least one ear infection. Some will have them again and again. It is important to get the care your child needs. Good care helps prevent hearing problems and holes in the eardrum.

How can I take care of my child?

Here are some things you should know:

  • Antibiotics. For mild ear infections, your child may not need an antibiotic. If the doctor prescribes an antibiotic, your child will start to feel better in a few days. But keep giving the medicine until it is all gone. This medicine will kill the bacteria that cause ear infections.
  • Fever and pain. Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help with the earache or fever over 102°F (39°C). No aspirin.
  • Going outside. Your child can go outside. Your child does not need to cover the ears.
  • Swimming. Swimming is OK as long as there is no tear in the eardrum or drainage from the ear.
  • Travel. If your child has an ear infection, he can travel by airplane safely if he is taking antibiotics. Have your child drink something, suck on a pacifier, or chew gum when the plane starts coming down or when traveling back down from the mountains by car.

Call your child's doctor right away if:

  • Your child gets a stiff neck.
  • Your child acts very sick.

Call your child's doctor during office hours if:

  • Your child still has pain or fever after taking the antibiotic for 48 hours.
  • You have other questions or concerns.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick”, American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-11-23
Last reviewed: 2011-06-06
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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