A middle ear infection (also called acute otitis media) is an infection in the part of the ear behind the eardrum. Infections are more common in young children, especially those who are exposed to cigarette smoke, go to day care, or use a dummy. Infections usually get better in one to two days.
What causes it?
Infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria.
Signs and symptoms
- ear pain
- tugging or rubbing the ear
- crying at night
- fever (temperature over 38°C)
- runny nose, sore throat or cough
- fluid or blood leaking from the ear (this is a sign of a ruptured (burst) ear drum).
How is it diagnosed?
A doctor can diagnose a middle ear infection by examining the ear using a special instrument with a magnifying lens and a torch. You will be asked to assist with the examination by holding your child sideways with their head held onto your chest and your other arm around their arms.
What is the treatment?
Pain medication such as Paracetamol (Panadol) and/or Ibuprofen (Nurofen) is usually the only treatment. Occasionally, your child’s doctor may recommend stronger pain medication.
Some bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. Medications such as antihistamines and decongestants are not recommended.
Care at home
Give your child regular pain relief. Follow the instructions on the bottle for the right dose. Do not give more than the recommend number of doses in a day.
Children with a ruptured ear drum should not get any water in the ear until it has healed. This usually takes about 10 days but a doctor will need to check your child’s ear to be certain.
Children are usually safe to travel on a plane two weeks after the pain has gone.