Otitis Media

You or your child has otitis media. This is an infection of the middle chamber of the ear. This condition is common in young children and often follows upper respiratory infections. Symptoms of otitis media may include earache or ear fullness, hearing loss, or fever. If the eardrum ruptures, a middle ear infection may also cause bloody or pus-like discharge from the ear. Fussiness, irritability, and persistent crying may be the only signs of otitis media in small children.

Otitis media can be caused by a bacteria or a virus. Antibiotics may be used to treat bacterial otitis media. But antibiotics are not effective against viral infections. Not every case of bacterial otitis media requires antibiotics and depending on age, severity of infection, and other risk factors, observation may be all that is required. Ear drops or oral medicines may be prescribed to reduce pain, fever, or congestion. Babies with ear infections should not be fed while lying on their backs. This increases the pressure and pain in the ear. Do not put cotton in the ear canal or clean it with cotton swabs. Swimming should be avoided if the eardrum has ruptured or if there is drainage from the ear canal. If your child experiences recurrent infections, your child may need to be referred to an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist.


  • Take any antibiotic as directed by your caregiver. You or your child may feel better in a few days, but take all medicine or the infection may not respond and may become more difficult to treat.

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines for pain, discomfort, or fever as directed by your caregiver. Do not give aspirin to children.

Otitis media can lead to complications including rupture of the eardrum, long-term hearing loss, and more severe infections. Call your caregiver for follow-up care at the end of treatment.


  • Your or your child's problems do not improve within 2 to 3 days.

  • You or your child has an oral temperature above 102° F (38.9° C), not controlled by medicine.

  • Your baby is older than 3 months with a rectal temperature of 102° F (38.9° C) or higher.

  • Your baby is 3 months old or younger with a rectal temperature of 100.4° F (38° C) or higher.

  • Your child develops increased fussiness.

  • You or your child develops a stiff neck, severe headache, or confusion.

  • There is swelling around the ear.

  • There is dizziness, vomiting, unusual sleepiness, seizures, or twitching of facial muscles.

  • The pain or ear drainage persists beyond 2 days of antibiotic treatment.