When someone has an ear infection, fluid builds up in the middle ear.

After a respiratory tract infection has gone away, fluid may remain inside the ear and take a month or longer to go away. Sometimes this fluid can become infected, leading to acute otitis media (AOM). OME is more common than AOM.

Ear Infections may improve with antibiotics, but they are not always necessary since not all ear infections are caused by bacteria.

Risk Factors

There are many things that can increase your risk for OME or AOM, including:

Signs and Symptoms

Children with ear infections do not act sick and will not have any obvious symptoms, although temporary problems with hearing may be present. Symptoms more commonly associated with ear infection include:

When to Seek Medical Care

See a healthcare professional if you or your child has any of the following:

If your child is younger than three months of age and has a fever, it’s important to always call your healthcare professional right away.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Ear infections can be diagnosed with a special instrument called an otoscope, which is used to look inside the ear at the eardrum. Your healthcare professional can also perform a special test using the otoscope to see if fluid has collected behind the eardrum. If OME is present, fluid may be visible, but there will be no signs of infection. If there are signs of infection, then AOM may be present.

Your healthcare professional will consider several factors when determining if antibiotics are needed for an ear infection: age, illness severity, certainty a bacterial infection is present, and options for follow-up. Since ear infections will often get better on their own without antibiotic treatment, your healthcare professional may decide to wait a few days before prescribing antibiotics. When an ear infection is caused by a virus, antibiotic treatment will not help it get better and may even cause harm in both children and adults.

If symptoms continue to last for more than one month for OME or 2 days for AOM, you should schedule a follow-up appointment with your healthcare professional.

Symptom Relief

Rest, over-the-counter medicines and other self-care methods may help you or your child feel better. For more information about symptomatic relief, visit the Symptom Relief section of this website or talk to your healthcare professional, including your pharmacist. Remember, always use over-the-counter products as directed. Many over-the-counter products are not recommended for children of certain ages.


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