Ear infections (brief version)
Ear infections (brief version)
Key points to remember about ear infections
- ear infections are very common in young children
- they can cause pain, and often fever
- antibiotics are not always needed
- pain relief is important
- there may be some fluid in the space behind the ear drum (middle ear) for several weeks or months after the infection. This is normal, and usually clears up on its own
- most children outgrow ear infections and have perfect and undamaged ears and normal hearing
if you think your child has an ear infection, take them to your family doctor
For a more detailed version of this fact sheet, including photos and diagrams, see:
What are the signs and symptoms of an ear infection?
cry and become very upset / distressed / irritable and hard to deal with
have very disturbed sleep at the beginning of the infection
be harder to settle to sleep
vomit, lose interest in eating, seem to have no energy
become “clingy” and “grizzly”
How long does an ear infection last?
What is the treatment for an ear infection?
- wait to see whether the infection will clear up by itself, or
- recommend treatment with antibiotics, if your child is unwell and feverish
Your child's doctor will be happy to discuss your child's treatment with you so that you can be involved in the treatment decisions. The decision about whether or not to use antibiotics may depend on some of the following factors:
- how severe the infection is
- how old your child is
- how often your child has had middle ear infections before
- how long your child has had this infection
- whether your child has ever had complications from ear infections before
- whether your child has any other medical conditions
- your views on how to manage your child's ear problems
How can I care for my child at home?
- pain relief is important (see What is the treatment for an ear infection?)
- propping your child's head up with a pillow in bed may help reduce the pain
- your child may need rest and lots of comforting / cuddles
- keep your child home from child care or school while they are unwell or have a fever
Can I do anything to prevent ear infections in my child?
- keeping your child smoke-free
- breastfeeding your baby for three to six months is thought to be protective against the early development of ear infections. This may be because breast feeding boosts the immune system (the body's defence against potentially harmful germs)
When should I seek help?
- your child's ear starts to discharge
- your child has a fever which doesn't go away after 24 – 48 hours
- you are worried about the continuing unwellness of your child
You need to take your child to a doctor immediately if your child:
- has any swelling, redness or tenderness in or around the ear
- is feeding poorly
- has any change in consciousness
- has a stiff neck
- has sensitivity to light
© Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 – 2013
Printed on 19 June 2013. Content is regularly updated so please refer to www.kidshealth.org.nz for the most up-to-date version
DISCLAIMERThis fact sheet is for educational use only.
Please consult your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for your child.
Fact sheets are subject to copyright. In the interests of information sharing they may be copied but acknowledgement must be given to PSNZ and Starship Foundation.
© The Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 - 2012