Ear Infection

Close-up of a small child with an adult holding a digital thermometer to their ear.

Do I Need Antibiotics for Ear Infection?

The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear and the back of the throat. Because this tube is narrow in young children, it can become blocked, especially with a cold. This blockage can lead to an infection.

Why You Probably Don’t Need Antibiotics for Ear Infection

It is important to note that 70-80% of children who have an ear infection will get better without an antibiotic. Some ear infections are due to viruses and some are due to bacteria. Waiting but continuing to watch for symptoms is a reasonable approach that your doctor might recommend.

Symptoms of Ear Infection

  • Fever
  • Ear pain
  • Irritability

Prevention of Ear Infection

  • Wash your hands frequently and teach your child about handwashing since most ear infections occur after a cold.
  • Avoid exposing your child to second hand smoke.
  • Do not give your child a bottle to drink while lying down.
  • Ensure your children are up to date with their routine immunizations.

Management of Ear Infection

  • Consider using acetaminophen (like Tylenol) or ibuprofen (like Advil) for pain and fever. Ibuprofen should not be given to children under 6 months of age without first speaking to your health care provider. Please follow dosing instructions on the box or speak to a doctor or pharmacist for more information.
  • Place a warm cloth over the outside of the ear.
  • Antihistamines and decongestants do not help an ear infection.
  • Under certain circumstances your doctor may prescribe antibiotics after examination of your child’s ears.
  • Because of the risk of antibiotic resistance, it is no longer recommended to give antibiotics for prolonged periods to prevent ear infections.

When to See a Health-Care Provider for an Ear Infection

See a health-care provider if a child has an earache and:

  1. They also have a high fever
  2. They seem unwell
  3. They have redness or welling behind the ear
  4. Their ear is pushed forward
  5. Their earache remains severe for more than 24 hours despite using acetaminophen/ibuprofen

Adults with fevers or other illness should always consider consulting a health-care provider if symptoms worsen or are unusually severe.

In British Columbia, you can call HealthLink BC (at 8-1-1) or visit healthlinkbc.ca if you need advice or are unsure of the best course of action.

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