What is an ear infection?
An ear infection is caused by a bacterial or viral infection in the middle or inner ear. Middle ear infections caused by viruses are common in children. This infection is often linked with another illness like a cold, flu or allergy, causing congestion and swelling of the passages connecting the nose, throat and ear.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms of an ear infection include an earache, difficulty hearing and a feeling of pressure or fullness in the ear.
How long could it last?
Symptoms usually last for about 3 days, but can last for up to a week. Most children and young people get better within 3 days without extra treatment like antibiotics.
When should I visit my GP practice?
Contact your practice if you or your child have:
- a very high temperature or feel hot and shivery
- earache that does not start to get better after 3 days
- swelling around the ear
- fluid coming from the ear
- hearing loss or a change in hearing
- other symptoms, like being sick, a severe sore throat or dizziness
- regular ear infections
- a long-term medical condition or a weakened immune system
More information can be found here: NHS – Ear Infections
Do I need antibiotics?
Antibiotics are not usually offered because infections inside the ear often clear up on their own and antibiotics make little difference to symptoms, including pain.
Antibiotics might be prescribed if:
- an ear infection does not start to get better after 3 days
- you or your child has any fluid coming out of the ear
- you or your child has an illness that means there’s a risk of complications, such as cystic fibrosis
They may also be prescribed if your child is less than 2 years old and has an infection in both ears.
What treatment do I need?
Ear infections often get better in a few days. Here are some of the ways you can relieve the pain and discomfort:
- use painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (always follow instructions for how many to take and age restrictions)
- place a warm or cold flannel on the ear
- remove any discharge by wiping the outside of the ear with cotton wool
- do not put anything inside your ear to remove earwax, such as cotton buds or your finger
- do not let water or shampoo get in your ear
- do not use decongestants or antihistamines. There’s no evidence they help with ear infections
If you are ever worried that your symptoms might be something more severe then you can visit 111.nhs.uk or call NHS 111.