What is an ear infection?
Ear infections are caused by bacteria and viruses. Most ear infections occur with a cold. When a child is sick, bacteria and viruses from the back of the throat travel up the tube that connects the throat to the middle ear and cause an infection.
What are the symptoms?
Ear infections cause earaches. Older children can tell you if they have an earache. Young children and infants may become irritable and fussy, have a fever, have trouble sleeping, or pull at their ears. Although less common, other symptoms may include loss of balance and fluid draining from the ears.
In some children, the ear infection causes fluid to collect in the middle ear. The fluid can stay there for months. Children with this condition will not have a fever or an earache (the usual signs of an ear infection), but may have trouble hearing.
You should see a health care provider if the illness seems to be causing more serious symptoms.
How is an ear infection spread?
Ear infections are not contagious, but because they often occur with a cold or other respiratory illness the bacteria or viruses causing the cold or other illness can spread.
How is an ear infection treated?
Sometimes an ear infection is treated with antibiotics, but often ear infections will clear up on their own within 2 to 3 days. Your health care provider may recommend giving acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol®) or another pain reliever for 2-3 days to treat earache.
If symptoms worsen, if new symptoms appear, or if there is no improvement in 2 to 3 days, parents should have a health care provider reassess their child.
If antibiotics are needed it is important that they are taken exactly as directed, even if the child is feeling better.
You can treat mild symptoms at home. Learn more about treating an earache.