How to Treat an Ear Infection

By: Florida Medical Clinic | On: January 12, 2016

Ear infections are one of the most common reasons parents bring their children to the doctor. While adults can also get ear infections, they are less common.

Ear infections are painful due to inflammation and pressure from built-up fluid in the ears, but most cases resolve themselves within a few days to a few weeks.

Depending on the severity and cause of your ear infection, your doctor may or may not prescribe medication to speed along recovery. You can easily treat symptoms of an ear infection at home.

How to Treat an Ear Infection

You can usually identify an ear infection by earache, difficulty hearing, fever, and a lack of energy. The treatment method for an ear infection depends on the type.

For the most part, swimmer’s ear and middle ear infections are not serious and resolve themselves within a few days to a few weeks. Inner ear infections are more complicated and can be difficult to treat.

Types of Ear Infections

Swimmer’s Ear (acute external otitis or otitis externa)

  • An infection of the outer ear canal, which is the canal that runs from your ear to your eardrum.
  • Usually caused by water which is left in the ear after swimming, or after any other activity where the ear is submerged. Bacteria is able to grow and thrive in the moist environment within your ear canal, causing an infection.
  • Damage to the lining of the ear canal, such as from cotton swabs or fingers, can also cause swimmer’s ear.
  • You can purchase eardrops to treat swimmer’s ear at your local pharmacy. Your doctor may also prescribe eardrops.
  • It’s recommended to avoid submerging your ear in water until your ear is healed.

How to Treat an Ear Infection - Florida Medical ClinicMiddle Ear Infection (otitis media)

  • An infection of the middle ear, which is located behind the eardrum.
  • Usually occurs when a bacterial  or viral infection such as a cold causes mucus to build up in the middle ear. Bacteria is able to grow in the trapped fluid, and in turn infects the surrounding area.
  • Treat symptoms with a warm compress to the outside of the ear and painkillers to ease pain and discomfort.
  • Antibiotics or antivirals may be prescribed by your doctor depending on the severity and cause of the infection.

Inner Ear Infection (otitis interna and labrynthitis)

  • A rare but potentially serious infection of the inner ear which can cause balance problems and potential hearing loss.
  • Usually triggered by bacteria or a virus, but can also be caused by complications from a middle ear infection.
  • Requires medical attention to treat. A doctor may prescribe antihistamines, steroids, antivirals, and medicines to relieve nausea and vertigo.

Ear Infections in Children

Children are more likely to develop ear infections than adults. This is largely because since their Eustachian tubes – the tubes which allow air into the middle ear – are smaller than those in adults.

How to Treat an Ear Infection - Florida Medical ClinicIf your child is too young to tell you that their ear hurts, don’t worry. You can still identify an ear infection by watching for the following signs:

  • Tugging at ear
  • Fluid draining or discharge from ear
  • Difficulty sleeping or restlessness at night
  • Irritability
  • Abnormal amount of crying
  • Difficulty hearing quiet or soft sounds
  • Trouble with balance

If you suspect your child has an ear infection, you have two options:

  1. You can take a wait and see approach, as most ear infections clear up on their own and do not require medication. Over the course of 48 hours, observe and see if your child’s symptoms improve. Treat the pain and discomfort with painkillers and warm compresses. If symptoms do not improve, or if they worsen, then you need to see a doctor.
  2. You can take your child directly to the pediatrician. From there, your pediatrician can determine the best course of action.

Only you know what is best for your child. If you have any doubts at all, you should schedule an appointment with a pediatrician.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

External and middle ear infections usually do not cause complications. All the same, it’s important to know what symptoms to look for in case an ear infection worsens or spreads, in which case it will require medical attention.

  • Pain and inflammation are normal for an ear infection. Seek medical attention if:
  • Pus or discharge leaks from ear
  • Symptoms do not improve after 2 – 3 days
  • You have hearing loss
  • You are experiencing vertigo, especially with a temperature of 101° or more
  • You have fainted
  • You feel weak or paralyzed
  • Your speech is slurred
  • You are experiencing convulsions

If you or a loved one has experienced any of these symptoms, contact Florida Medical Clinic! Our Otolaryngology department is experienced and knowledgeable about the inner workings of your ear. Open seven days a week and on holidays, our Urgent Care center is always ready for the unexpected.