Taking Care of Ear Infection

Written by: Azadeh Asefi

Published on: September 30th, 2016

Most children will have an ear infection by the age of 3 (1). These infections cause major ear pain and make the children very uncomfortable. When I worked in a pharmacy, it was common for me to see parents looking for a fast and best relief for their children. Let’s start with some basics.

All of us have a drainage tubes that run from our ears to throat. By constantly draining the fluid, it helps prevent ear infections. Children have really short drainage tubes that are prone to getting clogged when they have a cold or sore throat. Once any of the tubes becomes clogged, drainage slows down or stops.This could put them at high risk of an infection (2). Ear pain is the most common symptom, but sometimes there is a mild fever and some yellowish ear discharge (3).

Many parents think that all ear infections are caused by swimming; but swimming does not cause middle ear infections. Swimmer’s ear is a painful condition, where water gets stuck in the ear from swimming or bathing and this breakdowns the skin. This weakened skin is prone to becoming infected with bacteria (4). Children with swimmer’s ear will commonly have ear pain, swelling, itching, and sometimes hearing problems.4 One easy way to tell between swimmer’s ear and middle ear infections is that middle ear infections most commonly occur with a cold and sore throat (4). Your doctor can easily tell the difference by looking into the ear with a special scope.

Most ear infections will go away within 48 to 72 hours with absolutely NO treatment (2). While you wait, you can give a pain reliever like acetaminophen (Tylenol or other brand) or ibuprofen (Advil or other brand) to keep your child comfortable (2). Don’t forget to confirm proper dosing with the pharmacist!

When to see the doctor

  • Children with a high fever (higher than 39°C or 102.2 °F)
  • A baby younger than 6 months old with ear pain, fever, or yellowish discharge
  • A child with pain that does not improve after 48 hours
  • A child with any serious medical conditions A child that has had multiple ear infections over the past 6-12 months
  • A child has other symptoms that are not common with an average ear infection

Don’t forget – if you are very worried about your child’s ear infection, you can always give your doctor or pharmacist a call to discuss what you should do.

Prevention Tips

As always, prevention is better than treatment. Here are some tips to not only prevent ear infections but also colds and flus:2 Wash your hands regularly with soap and water (or alcohol-based hand sanitizers) Don’t use a pacifier too often If possible, breastfeed your child for the first 3 months or more Keep your child away from second-hand smoke Make sure you and your child get your yearly flu vaccine Keep your child’s immunizations up-to-date.

With some prevention, pain relievers and time, you can not only lower your child’s risk of ear infections but treat them without antibiotics (assuming your child’s symptom does not fall in the category that should be taken to the doctor). Remember that, if you have any questions regarding your health or medication, you can always talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

For more information about ear infections, feel free to read my Pharmacy Corner module on medSchoolForYou.ca.


1. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). (2015) Quick Statistics. Retrieved from: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/pages/quick.aspx
2. Canadian Pediatric Society. (2009) Management of acute otitis media. Retrieved from:http://www.cps.ca/documents/position/acute-otitis-media.
3. WebMD. (2015). Ear Infection Health Center. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/ear-infection/.
4. Canadian Pediatric Society. (2013) Acute otitis externa. Retrieved from: http://www.cps.ca/documents/position/acute-otitis-external .

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