Ear Infections

The thought of your child wincing in pain or tugging at her ear is enough to upset any mother. Ear infections are one of the most common illnesses seen in children. Up to 3/4 of children will have experienced an ear infection by the age of three. (NIDCD, 2004)

What are symptoms of a middle ear infection (otitis media)?

  • earache
  • tugging, pulling, or rubbing ears
  • discharge or drainage from ears
  • hearing loss
  • loss of appetite
  • fever

What is the cause of a middle ear infection?

Middle ear infections occur when the Eustachian tubes of the middle ear become swollen or blocked causing pressure and fluid to build on the eardrum. Ear infections can be caused by a virus or a bacteria. Although ear infections are not contagious, viruses that can lead to them can be.

Treatment of ear infections

It is a common belief of parents that all ear infections need to be treated with antibiotics. This belief is untrue. Although, ear infections caused by bacteria need to be treated with antibiotics, ear infections caused by viruses do not. Using antibiotics to treat an ear infection caused by a virus will not speed recovery and may in fact contribute to antibiotic resistance. Approximately 80 percent of children with abnormally looking ears will get better without the use of antibiotics. (Bell, Brooks, Manning, Steinmann, 1998) It can be difficult to differentiate whether an ear infection is caused by a bacteria or a virus so your doctor may take a wait and see approach. Viral infections will usually show improvement within a day or so. If your child has a fever or is in severe pain, your doctor may choose to prescribe an antibiotic. In either case, consulting your doctor is advised.

Your doctor may recommend the use of Tylenol to help with any associated pain and/or fever. Heating pads have also shown to be helpful in providing comfort.

Recurrent ear infections

Some children will experience recurrent ear infections that do not respond to treatment. For some children, the placement of tubes in the ears is necessary.


NIDCD, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communicable Disorders, Statistics about Hearing Disorders, Ear Infections, and Deafness. Retrieved August 8, 2005, from http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/hearing.asp

Bell, l., Brooks, J, Manning, M., Steinmann, M. (1998). Guide to Common Childhood Infections. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing

Izenberg, N. (2003). Human Diseases and Conditions Supplement 2: Infections Diseases. New York, NY: Scribner