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HealthInfo Canterbury

Middle-ear infections (otitis media)

otitis media Middle-ear infections happen when a virus or bacteria gets into the space behind your eardrum. This makes fluid build up, causing pain.

Middle-ear infection is also called otitis media.

Most middle-ear infections will get better after two to three days without needing any treatment.

They are much more common in children, especially those younger than five.

In some children, the infection doesn't clear up, leading to glue ear.

Symptoms of middle-ear infections

Pain is the most common symptom of a middle ear infection. Another common symptom is fever.

Children might have trouble eating, drinking or sleeping because they get more pain in their ear.

Sometimes fluid comes out of the ear. This happens when pressure from fluid behind the eardrum causes a hole in the eardrum. Fluid behind the eardrum can cause hearing loss.

Diagnosing middle-ear infections

Your doctor will look inside the ear with a special light called an otoscope.

Treating middle ear infections

Paracetamol and ibuprofen can help if there is pain or fever. Always make sure you're giving your child the correct amount of pain medicine.

You won't usually need antibiotics. They don't treat viral infections and most infections will get better anyway within two or three days.

Your child might need antibiotics if:

If your child has lots of ear infections (more than six in one year) or gets glue ear, they may need to be referred to an otolaryngologist – previously called an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist – to see if they need ventilation tubes (grommets).

Self care with middle-ear infections

Rest and take pain relief as needed.

See your doctor if:

You can reduce the chance of your child getting ear infections by:

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2020.

On the next page: Glue ear

See also:

Hearing in babies and children

Hearing loss

Outer ear infection


Page reference: 137996

Review key: HIEIG-48027