Ear Infection Treatment

Stop the pain getting worse

Ear infections are very common, especially in children but when we get them, we don’t always know where to turn for help. You do not always need to see a GP for an ear infection as they often get better on their own within 3 days.
Ear infections can be either bacterial or viral infections. They can occur in your middle ear, the part of your ear just behind your eardrum, as well as the outer and inner ear. They often clear up on their own but can be painful due to inflammation or fluid buildup.
Ear infections can be chronic or acute. Acute ear infections are painful but short in duration. Chronic ear infections either don’t clear up or recur many times. They can cause damage to the middle and inner ear, which is infrequently permanent.

Speak to your local Health Plus pharmacist in Luddendenfoot if you think you have an ear infection. We can recommend antibiotic ear drops to help stop bacteria or fungus spreading.

Ear infections

Differences between inner, middle and outer ear infections

Differences between inner, middle and outer ear infections

Inner ear infection Middle ear infection
(otitis media)
Outer ear infection
(otitis externa)
Can affect both children and adults Usually affects children Usually affects adults aged 45 to 75
Caused by viral or bacterial infections Caused by viruses like colds and flu Caused by something irritating the ear canal, such as eczema, water or wearing earplugs
Affects parts of the inner ear like the labyrinth and vestibular system, and can lead to labyrinthitis Affects the eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear (area behind the eardrum) to the back of the nose Affects the ear canal (the tube between the outer ear and the eardrum)

Preventing ear infections

You cannot always prevent ear infections, particularly inner ear infections caused by colds and flu.

To help avoid inner ear infections:

  • make sure your child is up to date with vaccinations
  • keep your child away from smoky environments
  • try not to give your child a dummy after they’re 6 months old

 

To help avoid outer ear infections:

  • do not stick cotton wool buds or your fingers in your ears
  • use earplugs or a swimming hat over your ears when you swim
  • try to avoid water or shampoo getting into your ears when you have a shower or bath
  • treat conditions that affect your ears, such as eczema or an allergy to hearing aids

FAQ

Ear infections are caused by viruses or bacteria, particularly the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniaeTrusted Sourceor Haemophilus influenzae. They often result from a blockage of your Eustachian tubes, which causes fluid to build up in your middle ear. Eustachian tubes are small tubes that run from each of your ears directly to the back of your throat.

Causes of Eustachian tube blockage include:

  • allergies
  • colds
  • sinus infections
  • excess mucus
  • smoking
  • changes in air pressure

 

Ear infections can also develop from infected adenoids. Your adenoids are glands on the roof of your mouth behind your nose that help protect your body from infections. Infections can spread from these glands to the nearby ends of your Eustachian tubes.

Risk factors for ear infections

Ear infections occur most commonly in young children because they have short and narrow Eustachian tubes. About 80 percentTrusted Source of children develop an acute ear infection at some point.

Infants who are bottle-fed also have a higher incidence of ear infections than their breastfed counterparts.

Other factors that increase the risk of developing an ear infection are:

  • altitude changes
  • changes in temperature and humidity
  • exposure to cigarette smoke
  • pacifier use
  • recent illness or ear infection
  • being male
  • low birth weight
  • lack of access to healthcare
  • being in daycare

The symptoms of an ear infection usually start quickly and include:

  • pain inside the ear
  • a high temperature
  • being sick
  • a lack of energy
  • difficulty hearing
  • discharge running out of the ear
  • a feeling of pressure or fullness inside the ear
  • itching and irritation in and around the ear
  • scaly skin in and around the ear

 

Young children and babies with an ear infection may also:

  • rub or pull their ear
  • not react to some sounds
  • be irritable or restless
  • be off their food
  • keep losing their balance

 

Most ear infections clear up within 3 days, although sometimes symptoms can last up to a week.

If you, or your child, have a high temperature or you do not feel well enough to do your normal activities, try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people until you feel better.

To help relieve any pain and discomfort from an ear infection:

You can

  • use painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (children under 16 should not take aspirin)
  • place a warm or cold flannel on the ear
  • remove any discharge by wiping the ear with cotton wool

 

Don’t

  • 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

See a GP 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 – such as diabetes or a heart, lung, kidney or neurological disease
  • a weakened immune system – because of chemotherapy, for example

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.

If antibiotics are not prescribed, ear drops containing a painkiller and an anaesthetic might be prescribed.

The GP might prescribe:

  • antibiotic eardrops – to treat a bacterial infection
  • steroid eardrops – to bring down swelling
  • anti fungal ear drops – to treat a fungal infection
  • antibiotic tablets – if your bacterial infection is severe

If you have a spot or boil in your ear, the GP may pierce it with a needle to drain the pus.

Ear drops may not work if they’re not used correctly.

  1. Remove any visible discharge or earwax using cotton wool.
  2. Hold the bottle in your hand to warm it. Cold eardrops can make you feel dizzy.
  3. Lie on your side with the affected ear facing up to put the drops in.
  4. Gently pull and push your ear to work the drops in.
  5. Stay lying down for 5 minutes so the drops do not come out.
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