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Resources :: Health Info :: Ears

Ear infection


If your child has an ear infection, he or she should get better in a few days. But if your child's ear hurts, certain painkillers can help. Antibiotics may help some children, but they can have side effects.

Children can also get fluid trapped in their middle ear. This sometimes happens after an ear infection.


These usually start when a child gets certain common infections, such as a cold or a sore throat. The infection spreads to one or both ears, making them swollen, blocked and painful.

Your doctor may call it acute ear infection, acute otitis media or purulent otitis media.


It might be clear to you that your child has an ear infection. The most common symptoms are ear pain and a high temperature.

If your child's eardrum bursts, you may also see fluid coming out of his or her ear. Babies who have an ear infection might cry more than usual or tug or hold their ear.

Children with an ear infection may:

Have a high temperature
Rub or tug their ear
Say that their ear hurts
Cry more than usual
Be irritable
Have a cold or cough
Have fluid coming out of one or both ears
Have trouble sleeping
Have trouble keeping their balance
Have trouble hearing (not responding to quiet sounds, for example).


If your child can talk and tell you their ear is hurting, you may feel happy giving them a painkiller such as paracetamol. This should ease their pain and make them more comfortable. And it's the treatment that your GP may advise if they diagnose an ear infection.

But if you're unsure what's wrong with your child, or painkillers don't seem to be working, then you should see your GP.

If your child can talk, the doctor will ask him or her about how they feel and where it hurts. The GP may also ask you how long they've had earache and whether they've had it before. If your child can't describe his or her symptoms, or feels shy about talking in front of the doctor, then your GP will ask you about your child's symptoms and how long they have had them. Your GP will probably also look inside your child's ear.

Your GP uses an instrument called an otoscope to look at your child's ear canal and eardrum. This lets your GP see any redness or fluid behind the eardrum.
Your GP may also gently push some air into your child's ear with this instrument to see if the eardrum moves.
If your child's eardrum is red or doesn't move, your child probably has an ear infection.


Ear infections are painful. But the good news is they normally clear up without treatment in a few days.1 Painkillers can help. Some children may need antibiotics but they can have side effects.

Painkillers, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, can help ease the pain from ear infections.
Taking antibiotics may help clear up your child's ear infection more quickly.
But antibiotics don't clear up all ear infections and they have side effects.
If your child gets lots of ear infections, he or she may get fewer by chewing gum or taking a syrup that contains a natural substance called xylitol.
Your child may be less likely to get an ear infection if he or she takes antibiotics regularly for a long time. But antibiotics can cause side effects. And taking them for a long time may mean they won't work for a more serious infection.
There are things you can do that may help prevent ear infections. See How to help your child avoid ear infections.

Which treatments work best? We've looked carefully at the research on:

Which treatments work best? We've looked carefully at the research on:

Treating your child's ear infection
Stopping your child from getting more ear infections.

We've divided the treatments into the following categories. You can find out more about each treatment by clicking on the links below.

Treating your child's ear infection

Treatments that are likely to work

Paracetamol: This is a commonly used painkiller. You can buy liquid paracetamol for young children over the counter at a chemist or supermarket. More...
Ibuprofen: This is another commonly used painkiller. It belongs to a group of painkillers called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs for short). It relieves pain as well as swelling and redness in the ear (inflammation). You can buy liquid ibuprofen over the counter at a chemist or supermarket. More...
Treatments that work, but whose harms may outweigh benefits

Antibiotics: These are drugs that kill bacteria. Examples of antibiotics used to treat ear infections (and their brand names) include amoxicillin (Amoxil), co-amoxiclav (Augmentin), cefaclor (Distaclor), cefixime (Suprax), clarithromycin (Klaricid) and erythromycin (Erythroped). You need a prescription for these medicines. More...
Treatments that are likely to be ineffective or harmful

Surgery to make a hole in the eardrum: A surgeon makes a small cut in the eardrum. This lets any fluid that has built up in the middle ear drain out. More...

Stopping your child from getting more ear infections

Treatments that are likely to work

Xylitol gum or syrup: Xylitol is a natural sweetener that can stop bacteria growing. Look for a chewing gum that is sweetened with xylitol. More...
Treatments that work, but whose harms may outweigh benefits

Taking antibiotics for a long time: This is when your child takes antibiotics for at least a few months to prevent ear infections from coming back. More...
Treatments that are likely to be ineffective or harmful

Surgery to put in grommets: Putting grommets in the ear allows the fluid in the middle ear to drain out. The theory is that the grommets prevent ear infections by allowing air into the middle air through the eardrum


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source NHSDirect 151204

Product code:sym-earinfection

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