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HealthInfo Aoraki South Canterbury

Middle-ear infections (otitis media)

Pokenga ā-taring o waenga

Illustration showing the eustachian tube going between the ear and the back of the nose and a cross section of the middle ear with fluid buildupMiddle-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 2 to 3 days without needing any treatment.

They are much more common in tamariki (children), especially those younger than 5.

In some tamariki, the infection does not 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.

Tamariki 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 are giving your tamaiti (child) the correct amount of pain medicine.

You will not usually need antibiotics. Antibiotics do not treat viral infections and most infections will get better anyway within 2 or 3 days.

Your tamaiti might need antibiotics if:

If your tamaiti has lots of ear infections (more than 6 in a year) or gets glue ear, they may need to see an otolaryngologist to see if they need ventilation tubes (grommets). Otolaryngologists used to be called ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists.

Self-care with middle-ear infections

Rest and take pain relief as needed.

See your general practice team if:

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

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2023.

On the next page: Glue ear


See also:

Hearing loss in children

Hearing loss in adults

Outer ear infection

Page reference: 137996

Review key: HIEIG-48027