Ear infection - acute

Is your child irritable, inconsolably crying, feverish, and having trouble sleeping? If so, your child may have an ear infection.

Ear infections are one of the most common reasons parents take their children to the doctor. The most common type is called otitis media, which means an inflammation and infection of the middle ear. The middle ear is located just behind the eardrum.

The Eustachian tube runs from the middle of each ear to the back of the throat. This tube drains fluid normally made in the middle ear. If the tube gets blocked, fluid can build up, leading to infection. Ear infections are common in infants and children because their tiny. Eustachian tubes become easily clogged. They're often caused by allergies, colds, and excess mucus and saliva produced during teething.

Infants with an ear infection will often be irritable. You may have a hard time consoling their crying, and your child may have a fever and not sleep very well. Older children may have an ear ache and tell you their ear feels full. Because ear infections have fluid behind the ear drum, you can use an electronic ear monitor to detect this fluid at home.

Children under 6 months old who might have an ear infection need to see a doctor. Your child's doctor will look inside the child's ear using an instrument called an otoscope. The doctor might see areas of redness, air bubbles behind the ear drum, and fluid inside the middle ear.

Often, an ear infection will clear up on its own. For older children, you can place a warm cloth or bottle on their ear and give them over-the-counter ear drops to relieve their pain.

If bacteria caused the ear infection, your child may need to take antibiotics. In fact, all ear infections in children under 6 months old are treated with antibiotics. If the infection does NOT go away, on its own or with treatment, the doctor may recommend ear tube surgery. In this procedure, a tiny tube is inserted into the eardrum to drain the fluid. The tube will usually fall out on its own.

Ear infections are very treatable, but they may come back again. If your child has to take an antibiotic, make sure they take all of the medicine.

Review Date: 2/18/2016
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

ADAM QualityA.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 9-1-1 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only—they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997-2010 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.