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Ear Infection In Children


An ear infection

is also called otitis media. Children are most likely to get ear infections when they are between 6 months and 3 years old. Ear infections are most common during the winter and early spring months, but can happen any time during the year. Your child may have an ear infection more than once.

Ear Anatomy

Common symptoms include the following:

  • Fever
  • Ear pain or tugging, pulling, or rubbing of the ear
  • Decreased appetite from painful sucking, swallowing, or chewing
  • Fussiness, restlessness, or difficulty sleeping
  • Yellow fluid or pus coming from the ear
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Dizziness or loss of balance

Seek care immediately if:

  • You see blood or pus draining from your child's ear.
  • Your child seems confused or cannot stay awake.
  • Your child has a stiff neck, headache, and a fever.

Contact your child's healthcare provider if:

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child is still not eating or drinking 24 hours after he or she takes medicine.
  • Your child has pain behind his or her ear or when you move the earlobe.
  • Your child's ear is sticking out from his or her head.
  • Your child still has signs and symptoms of an ear infection 48 hours after he or she takes medicine.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Treatment for an ear infection

may include medicines to decrease your child's pain or fever or medicine to treat an infection caused by bacteria. Ear tubes may be used to keep fluid from collecting in your child's ears. Your child may need these to help prevent frequent ear infections or hearing loss. During this procedure, the healthcare provider will cut a small hole in your child's eardrum.

Care for your child at home:

  • Prop your older child's head and chest up while he or she sleeps. This may decrease ear pressure and pain. Ask your child's healthcare provider how to safely prop your child's head and chest up.
  • Have your child lie with his or her infected ear facing down to allow fluid to drain from the ear.
  • Use ice or heat to help decrease your child's ear pain. Ask which of these is best for your child, and use as directed.
  • Ask about ways to keep water out of your child's ears when he or she bathes or swims.

Prevent an ear infection:

  • Wash your and your child's hands often to help prevent the spread of germs. Ask everyone in your house to wash their hands with soap and water. Ask them to wash after they use the bathroom or change a diaper. Remind them to wash before they prepare or eat food.
  • Keep your child away from people who are ill, such as sick playmates. Germs spread easily and quickly in daycare centers.
  • If possible, breastfeed your baby. Your baby may be less likely to get an ear infection if he or she is breastfed.
  • Do not give your child a bottle while he or she is lying down. This may cause liquid from the sinuses to leak into his or her eustachian tube.
  • Keep your child away from people who smoke.
  • Vaccinate your child. Ask your child's healthcare provider about the shots your child needs.

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your child's visits.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2018 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Ear Infection In Children (Ambulatory Care)

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