Ear Infection : What You Need to Do


What do I need to know about an ear infection?

An ear infection is also called otitis media. An ear infection may be caused by blocked or swollen eustachian tubes. Eustachian tubes connect the middle ear to the back of the nose and throat. They drain fluid from the middle ear. With an ear infection, fluid builds up and is infected by germs. The germs grow easily in fluid trapped behind the eardrum.

What are the signs and symptoms of an ear infection?

  • Ear pain
  • Fever or a headache
  • Trouble hearing
  • Ringing or buzzing in your ear
  • Plugged ear or an ear that feels full
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting

How is an ear infection diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will look inside your ears. He or she may blow a puff of air inside your ears. This will show if your eardrums look healthy. If your eardrum is infected, it will look red and swollen and not move as it should. A tympanogram is another test that may be done. During the test, an ear plug is put into each of your ears. Air pressure is used to see how the eardrum moves. It can help your healthcare provider learn if you have fluid in your middle ear.

How is an ear infection treated?

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor’s order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor’s order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Ear drops help treat your ear pain.
  • Antibiotics help treat a bacterial infection that caused your ear infection.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Apply heat on your ear for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times a day or as directed. Heat helps decrease pain.
  • Apply ice on your ear for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times a day for 2 days or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel before you apply it to your ear. Ice decreases swelling and pain.

How can I help prevent an ear infection?

  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and water. Wash your hands after you use the bathroom, change a child’s diapers, or sneeze. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food.
  • Stay away from people who are ill. Some germs are easily and quickly spread through contact.

Call 911 or have someone call 911 for the following:

  • You have a seizure.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a fever and a stiff neck.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your ear pain gets worse or does not go away, even after treatment.
  • The outside of your ear is red or swollen.
  • You are vomiting or have diarrhea.
  • You have fluid coming from your ear.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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