With this condition, the middle ear becomes infected and inflamed. The middle ear is located behind the eardrum.
The Middle Ear
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The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Most middle ear infections can be diagnosed by looking into the ear with a lighted instrument, called an otoscope.
The doctor will see if there is fluid or pus behind the eardrum. A small tube and bulb may be attached to the otoscope. This is to blow a light puff of air into the ear. The puff helps the doctor see if the eardrum is moving normally.
Other tests may include:
- Tympanocentesis—used to drain fluid or pus from the middle ear using a needle, also used to check for bacteria
- Tympanometry—measures pressure in the middle ear and responsiveness of the eardrum,
also used to check for fluid or pus
—may be done if you have had many ear infections
Antibiotics are commonly used to treat ear infections. Examples include:
- Clavulanate (Augmentin)
- Sulfa drugs (eg, Septra, Bactrim, Pediazole)
Since bacteria develop a resistance to antibiotics, doctors may take a "wait and see" approach. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic for your child and ask you to use the medication if the pain or fever lasts for a certain number of days. This approach has been effective.
While antibiotics may be effective, it is also important to keep in mind these medicines can cause a number of side effects. Nausea, stomach pain, and
are common. Also, a person may have an allergic reaction to the antibiotic. It is important to discuss the risks and benefits of taking antibiotics with your doctor.
A virus causes some ear infections. This type will not go away faster with antibiotics. Most middle ear infections (including bacterial ones) tend to improve on their own in 2-3 days.
Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
can help reduce pain, fever, and irritability. These include:
: Aspirin is not recommended for children or teens with a current or
recent viral infection. This is because of the risk of
. Ask your doctor which other medicines are safe for your child.
Decongestants and antihistamines are not recommended to treat an ear infection.
In children, ear drops that have a local anaesthetic (eg, ametocaine,
, or lidocaine) can help decrease pain, especially when the drops are used with oral pain relievers. If there is a chance that the eardrum has ruptured, do not use ear drops.
is surgery done to open the eardrum. A tiny cut is made in the eardrum to drain fluid and pus.
If you are diagnosed with an ear infection, follow your doctor's