Ear infections are common, especially in children. They are usually caused by an infection and can cause earache and temporary hearing loss.
Ear infections usually go away on their own, but sometimes need treatment with antibiotics. Some children with repeated ear infections, where they may be causing long term problems, may have surgery.The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners recommend that middle ear infection (otitis media) in non-indigeneous children between the ages of 2-12 should not be treated with antibiotics unless there are signs of widespread infection.
For more information, speak to your doctor or visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.
What is an ear infection?
While there are many different types of ear infection, otitis media (middle ear infection) is the most common. Babies and children are especially prone to otitis media.
The other common type is otitis externa, which is an infection of the outer ear.
Ear infections can be caused by either bacteria or viruses.
After an ear infection your child may have a problem hearing for two to six weeks. If the problem lasts for any longer than this, ask your doctor for advice.
Symptoms of ear infection
Symptoms can include:
- fever or headache
- having trouble hearing
- ears feeling plugged or full, sometimes with ringing or buzzing
- becoming dizzy or losing your balance
- nausea or vomiting.
Babies and small children might:
- pull or rub their ear
- have a high temperature (38°C or above)
- have redness around the ear
- be restless or irritable
- not respond to noises that would normally attract their attention.
Ear infection prevention
Try to avoid getting water in your ears, or smoking or breathing in other people’s smoke, as these can make ear infections feel worse.
Here are some things to avoid.
- Don’t put anything into your ear, not even a cotton bud, even if your ear feels blocked or painful.
- Don’t use ear drops unless they’re prescribed by a doctor or you’ve talked to a pharmacist about them.
If the pain persists or gets worse, or if you feel sick or have a temperature, see your doctor.
Last reviewed: August 2015