Many parents take children who have ear infections to express care, urgent care or hospital emergency departments to request antibiotics. But antibiotics sometimes aren’t the right choice. Most ear infections cure themselves without the help of anti biotics.

“An ear infection is a bacterial or viral infection that affects the ear. It becomes painful when buildups of fluid and inflammation occur in the air-filled space behind the eardrum,” says Mayo Clinic Health System nurse practitioner Leanna Munoz. “Signs and symptoms of infection often quickly show.”

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Munoz says a way to tell whether your child has an ear infection is if he or she starts showing the following symptoms:

  • Pain in the ear, especially while lying down
  • Pulling or tugging the ear
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty hearing or responding to sounds
  • Fever or headache
  • Generally, an ear infection will improve within the first couple of days and clear up within one to two weeks without any treatment. It is recommended to use the wait-and-see approach for:
  • Children ages 6 to 23 months with mild inner-ear pain in one ear for less than 48 hours and a temperature of less than 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Children ages 2 and older with mild inner-ear pain in one or both ears for less than 48 hours and a temperature of less than 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit
  • “Home remedies can help manage your child’s pain,” says Munoz. “Try placing a warm, damp washcloth over the affected ear. Most providers recommend over-the-counter medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to relieve pain. Use these medications as directed on the label.”
  • Your medical provider can suggest the best treatment for your child. Antibiotics may be beneficial for certain children with ear infections.