Home remedie for ear infection -
Soothing Salt Sock Remedy For Earaches
Ahhhh, unintended consequences. Sometimes things work out – like when a certain kitchen helper forgets to add an egg to the lemon poppyseed muffin recipe you’re tinkering with and accidentally perfects it. Sometimes . . . not so much.
Take, for example, the once common practice of giving antibiotics to children with earaches. Although most earaches are viral in nature – and therefore not treatable by antibiotics – the common belief used to be that it’s best to prescribe them “just in case.” Turns out, that approach actually increases a child’s risk of recurrent ear infections and other problems. (source 1, source 2)
Fortunately, most earaches– whether truly an infection or an irritation due to another cause – clear up without any treatment, says Dr. Richard Rosenfeld, who helped write the new American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines for treating ear infections. Harvard Medical school concurs in this article, as do many other sources.
What approach does the American Academy of Pediatrics Recommend?
For otherwise healthy kids with mild inner ear pain and no conditions that “may alter the natural course” of acute otitis media (anatomic abnormalities such as cleft palate, genetic conditions such as Down syndrome, immunodeficiencies, the presence of cochlear implants, recurrent ear infections, etc.), the AAP now recommends a wait-and-see approach. (source)
In plain English, that means:
Children ages 6 months to 2 years with an infection in one ear who don’t have a high fever, severe pain or other complications can be watched for 48 hours without antibiotic treatment to see if the infection gets worse, the guidelines say. The same watching period applies to older children with a mild infection in one or both ears.” (This is easy to understand interpretation of these technical guidelines from the AAP was written by LiveScience.)
If things aren’t getting worse, my understanding of the guidelines is that it’s fine to continue with watchful waiting. (I’m not an expert, of course, and this is not medical advice. I’m just sharing my understanding based on the guidelines and conversations with my children’s pedi.)
According to this New York Times special report, between “80 – 90% of all children with uncomplicated ear infections recover within a week without antibiotics.”
So, how can we help our kids be more comfortable?
The AAP recommends administering pain relievers to make children more comfortable, but some parents opt for other comfort measures.
I’ve already shared some of my favorite natural remedies for earaches with you, but last year I discovered a new one while reading through Salt In Your Sock and Other Tried-and-True Home Remedies by Lillian Beard, M.D. It’s . . . . yep, you guessed it . . . salt in a sock.
Specifically, warm salt in a sock, applied to the ear and jaw area to soothe discomfort and support healing. I used this salt sock remedy with one of my littles a few months ago and it worked beautifully, so I wanted to pass it along. Like many of my favorite remedies – this cough syrup for example – it’s been used for generations. In fact, here’s how Dr. Beard learned about it:
A friend’s grandmother from Italy treated all her children and grandchildren who had an earache with her sure-fire remedy, which has worked for at least two generations in her family.”
She then explains the recipe – which I have simplified in the next section – and adds:
I have recommended this to parents over the years, and many have reported that it works. My theory is that the heated salt retains the soothing warmth that eases the child’s discomfort. Perhaps the salt also draws out fluid from the painful ear. In doing so, it might decrease middle ear pressure”
How To Make A Soothing Salt Sock For Earaches
- 1 clean, cotton sock. Longer socks are better because you’ll need to tie the ankle section in a knot in order to keep the salt in.
- 1-1½ cups coarse sea salt (I’ve also used epsom salt with good results)
- a few drops of lavender or tea tree essential oil (optional)
Set the oven to 350F. Pour salt in the sock and tie the ankle section in a knot. Place the sock on a baking sheet and slide it into the oven. When the oven reaches 350F it should be warm enough. When it is warm, but not so hot that it will be uncomfortable, apply 1-2 drops of essential oil directly on the sock if desired. Place the sock on the ear and allow it to sit there for as long as you wish. Repeat the process if desired.
Pour salt in the sock and tie the ankle section in a knot. Place sock in a clean skillet over low/medium heat, flipping often to ensure that the salt is warming evenly. When it is very warm (but not so hot that it will be uncomfortable), apply a couple of drops of essential oil directly on the sock if desired. Place the warmed sock on the ear and allow it to sit there for as long as you wish. After the sock cools you can repeat the process if desired.
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This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Home Remedies for Ear Infections
While ear infections are more common in children, people of any age can get them.
Because ear infections often clear up on their own, healthcare professionals are hesitant to jump to prescribing antibiotics as a first course of treatment unless the infection is severe, the child is very young, or there are other mitigating circumstances.
This has many people turning to home remedies for ear infections. Many home remedy recommendations—often passed from one person to another through word of mouth—are not backed by scientific evidence and may even be harmful. It's important to evaluate home remedy recommendations for ear infections for accuracy and safety before trying them out. And as always, when in doubt, ask your healthcare provider.
Commercial pre-made ice packs can be used, or an ice compress or cold compress can be made at home.
How to Make an Ice Towel:
- Using cold water, wet a towel and squeeze out excess moisture.
- Fold the towel.
- Place the folded towel in a leak-proof, sealable bag such as a Ziploc freezer bag.
- Place the sealed bag in the freezer for 15 minutes.
How to Make an Ice Pack or Cool Compress
- Place ice cubes in a leak-proof, sealable bag such as a Ziploc bag.
- Partially fill with water.
- Seal the bag, squeezing air out as you go.
- Wrap the bag with a damp towel.
How to Use It
Apply it to the affected ear for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Some people find it helpful to alternate between cold and warm compresses.
Does It Help?
Cold compresses won't cure an ear infection, but they can help ease ear pain.
Cold can numb the area and help reduce inflammation.
Never put ice or a cold pack directly on the skin, as this can cause tissue damage. Wrap it in a towel, paper towel, or another suitable barrier before applying it to the skin.
Be mindful of temperature and time. To avoid damage such as frostbite, don't make the compress too cold, and never leave it on for more than 20 minutes at a time.
Commercial heat compresses or heating pads can be used, or heat compresses can be made at home.
To make a homemade heat compress, simply wet a towel with warm water and squeeze out the excess.
How to Use It
Apply the warm compress or heating pad to the affected ear for no more than 20 minutes at a time.
Hot compresses can also be alternated with cold compresses.
Does It Help?
Heat compresses bring more blood to the area. As with cold compresses, heat compresses will not cure an ear infection but can help with pain relief.
Be very careful to avoid burns, especially when applying heat compresses to children.
Make sure the compress or heating pad is not too hot, and do not apply it for more than 20 minutes at a time.
If using a heating pad or similar device, do not apply directly to the skin, and keep it on for 20 minutes or less. Never sleep with a heating pad, and always supervise a child who is using one.
Heat compresses are not recommended for infants.
Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are the most recommended treatment for ear pain and for fever that sometimes accompanies ear infections.
For infants over 2 months: Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be given if the baby's healthcare provider gives the okay.
Fever In Young Infants
If a baby younger than 3 months old has a rectal temperature or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4 F (38 C) or higher, they need to go to the emergency room, even if there are no other symptoms.
For infants age 6 months or older, toddlers, and older children: Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) are options.
For adults: Acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen (Aleve) can help. Neither aspirin nor naproxen should be given to children unless directed by a healthcare provider.
How to Use Them
The dosage, type, and frequency of doses depend on the type of medication, the age of the person, their weight, and other mitigating factors such as medical history.
If a child is under age 2 or has never taken this medication before, contact their healthcare provider before administering it.
For children and adults, follow the directions on the package carefully.
Does It Help?
OTC medications can be quite effective for pain and/or fever.
They won't cure an ear infection, but they can make you much more comfortable while your body fights the infection.
In addition to relieving pain and fever, NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen) can help reduce inflammation.
Children under 6 months who are showing symptoms of an ear infection should see a healthcare provider before starting any treatment.
Read all directions before administering medications to children or taking medications yourself. If dosing children by weight, make sure you have an up-to-date and accurate weight calculation for them.
Check for drug interactions with other medications you are taking before taking OTC medications.
Contact a healthcare provider if you notice any adverse effects.
Hydrogen peroxide can be used on its own or in OTC ear drops, typically for removing excess ear wax or for treating or preventing swimmer's ear (an infection of the ear canal).
How to Use It
- Apply about half an ear dropper full of 3% hydrogen peroxide solution into the ear canal.
- Let it bubble and fizz.
- Allow it to drain properly by turning your head to the side and pulling back on the top of your ear.
- Use drying drops or a hairdryer to eliminate any moisture that is left behind in the ear.
If using OTC drops, follow the directions on the label.
Does It Help?
Cleaning your ears occasionally with hydrogen peroxide can help keep bacteria out of your ear canals and stop ear wax from building up. This could help prevent infection, but it won't treat a middle ear infection as it can't reach the middle ear.
The only way for it to reach the site of infection with a middle ear infection is if there is a hole in the eardrum, in which case it would be unsafe to use hydrogen peroxide.
Do not use if there is a suspected perforated eardrum.
Garlic has become an area of interest for study for its potential health benefits. The current research does not have a consensus as to its efficacy, but some studies show promising results depending on how it is used.
Freshly crushed raw garlic has shown promising results as an antimicrobial in part because of a defense molecule contained within it called allicin.
Allicin has been shown, at least in vitro (outside of a living organism), to have strong antimicrobial properties. Animal studies suggest it may also help fight infection inside the body. But more research, particularly on humans, is needed.
Some studies suggest that garlic supplements can reduce the occurrence and/or duration of colds, a common cause of ear infections. But these studies are small, and more research needs to be done.
Do not put garlic, or any foreign objects, into your ear.
Garlic oil has antimicrobial properties and is sometimes suggested as an ear drop for ear infections.
This is advised against, as it won't reach the source of the infection behind the eardrum unless the eardrum has a hole in it. If the eardrum is perforated, it still has not been shown that garlic oil is safe to use in the middle ear.
Garlic May Interact With Some Medications
Garlic supplements should not be taken with medications that are transported by P-gp. This includes:
- Doxorubicin [Adriamycin]
- Rosuvastatin [Crestor]
- Tacrolimus [Prograf]
Because of the increased risk of bleeding associated with garlic supplements, talk to your healthcare provider about their use if you take an anticoagulant (blood thinner) such as warfarin (Coumadin) or if you need surgery.
Garlic supplements may interfere with the effectiveness of saquinavir (a drug used to treat HIV infection) and other medications, dietary herbs, or supplements.
Talk to your healthcare provider before taking any supplements, including garlic.
Ginger is a root that is commonly used as a spice in foods and is considered to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
How to Use It
Ginger juice or ginger infused oil can be applied on the outer ear. Do not put ginger in the ear.
Does It Help?
Ginger has been used for generations as a health remedy and appears to have several health benefits, but those results are mostly observational and anecdotal. Studies have been performed, particularly animal studies, but without strong, conclusive results.
More research is needed on the health benefits of ginger both taken orally and applied to the skin.
Do not put ginger, ginger juice, ginger infused oil, or any other forms of ginger into the ear.
While ginger is largely considered safe, it is best to consult a healthcare provider before applying or consuming it outside our typical use as a food spice.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil comes from the evergreen leaves of the Australian Melaleuca alternifolia tree.
How to Use It
Tea tree oil is used topically to help with skin conditions and can be added to a bath or vaporizer (if supported by the manufacturer) to help with lung problems.
It should never be taken internally and should not be placed into the ears.
Does It Help?
While tea tree oil does appear to have antibacterial and antifungal properties, it is not safe to be used in the ear and should not be used to treat ear infections.
Tea tree oil is toxic when swallowed and must be kept away from children and pets.
Allergic rashes from tea tree oil are possible, so testing on a small area before use is advised.
Do not put it in the ear, as this can cause damage to the inner ear.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is made from fermented apple juice. Some studies indicate it has antibacterial properties.
How to Use It
- Mix equal parts warm water and apple cider vinegar or equal parts rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) and apple cider vinegar.
- Using a dropper, add a few (five to 10) drops into the affected ear, with the head tilted to keep the mixture in the ear.
- Let the mixture sit in the ear for five minutes before allowing it to drain out.
Does It Help?
Because of its antibacterial properties, it may help with an outer ear infection such as swimmer's ear, but it will not help a middle ear infection.
Do not use for a middle ear infection.
Do not use if there are tubes in the ears or there is a perforated eardrum or one is suspected.
Breastfeeding passes infection-fighting agents from parent to baby, but the amount of these agents vary.
One study found that after the first one to two weeks after birth, the amount of white blood cells found in the breastmilk is low when both breastfeeding parent and baby are healthy.
The number of white blood cells in the breastmilk increased significantly if either the nursing parent and/or the infant had an infection. The increase was larger when the parent had an infection than when the infant did, particularly if the infection was in the breast (mastitis).
Breastfed babies are less likely to get ear infections than those who are formula-fed. Breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months and continuing to breastfeed for at least a year is recommended for several reasons, including reducing the risk of ear infections.
When to See a Doctor
See a healthcare provider if:
- A child younger than 6 months has a fever (even as the only symptom) or shows signs of an ear infection.
- Symptoms do not improve within 2 to 3 days.
- Symptoms get worse.
- Symptoms are severe.
- There is hearing loss.
- There is a fever of 102.2 F (39 C) or higher.
- There is pus, discharge, or fluid coming from the ear.
- Severe pain suddenly stops (may mean a ruptured eardrum).
- There is swelling behind the ear.
- New symptoms appear (especially severe headache, dizziness, swelling around the ear, or twitching of the face muscles).
- You think medical attention is necessary.
See a healthcare provider immediately if:
- An infant under 3 months has a temperature of 100.4 F (38 C) or higher.
- There is a fever over 104 F (40 C).
- There is a stiff neck.
- A child acts sluggish, looks or acts very sick, or does not stop crying despite all efforts.
- The child’s walk is not steady/they are physically very weak.
- There are signs of weakness in the face (like a crooked smile).
- There is bloody or pus-filled fluid draining from the ear.
- Ear pain is severe.
- You think immediate medical attention is necessary.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to see a doctor for an ear infection?
Most middle ear infections are fought off by the body without treatment within a few days. If your ear infection does not require antibiotics, further treatment is not necessary. But some home remedies may help with comfort and symptom relief.
How do you get rid of an earache fast?
The most effective method of relieving ear pain is OTC pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin). Adults can also try aspirin or naproxen (Aleve), but neither of these should be given to children unless directed by a healthcare provider.
A Word From Verywell
While antibiotics are sometimes necessary for an ear infection, especially in children less than 2 years old, ear infections usually go away on their own within a few days.
To help with symptom management while your ears heal, some home remedies can be helpful. That said, others are unproven or possibly harmful.
Always check with your healthcare provider before starting a treatment for yourself or for your child, and never put anything in your ear or your child's ear without the guidance of a healthcare provider.
Thanks for your feedback!
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Ice packs vs. warm compresses for pain.
Cleveland Clinic. How to steer clear of swimmer's ear. Updated December 18, 2020.
Arreola R, Quintero-Fabián S, López-Roa RI, et al. Immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of garlic compounds. J Immunol Res. 2015;2015:401630. doi:10.1155/2015/401630
AMA Borlinghaus J, Albrecht F, Gruhlke MC, Nwachukwu ID, Slusarenko AJ. Allicin: chemistry and biological properties. Molecules. 2014;19(8):12591-12618. Published 2014 Aug 19. doi:10.3390/molecules190812591
Cleveland Clinic. 3 home remedies for an ear infection. Updated January 2, 2020.
Asher GN, Corbett AH, Hawke RL. Common herbal dietary supplement—drug interactions. AFP. 2017;96(2):101-107.
National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health. Garlic. Updated December 2020.
Karuppiah P, Rajaram S. Antibacterial effect of Allium sativum cloves and Zingiber officinale rhizomes against multiple-drug resistant clinical pathogens. Asian Pac J Trop Biomed. 2012;2(8):597-601. doi:10.1016/S2221-1691(12)60104-X
Bode AM, Dong Z. The amazing and mighty ginger. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, eds. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd ed. CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011.
Michigan Medicine. Tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia). Updated September 23, 2020.
Fraise AP, Wilkinson MAC, Bradley CR, Oppenheim B, Moiemen N. The antibacterial activity and stability of acetic acid. Journal of Hospital Infection. 2013;84(4):329-331. doi:10.1016/j.jhin.2013.05.001
Hassiotou F, Hepworth AR, Metzger P, et al. Maternal and infant infections stimulate a rapid leukocyte response in breastmilk. Clin Transl Immunology. 2013;2(4):e3. Published 2013 Apr 12. doi:10.1038/cti.2013.1
Harvard Health. Earache. Updated January 2019.
Cleveland Clinic. Ear infection (otitis media). Updated April 16, 2020.
What is an ear infection?
An ear infection is one of the most common conditions among children. It is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. These infections create pressure in the Eustachian tube that connects the throat to the middle ear. This pressure causes the ear pain.
A chronic ear infection can last for 6 weeks or more, but most infections are viral and go away on their own after 3 days without needing to see a doctor. Children are more likely to get an ear infection when they’re exposed to illness from other kids, especially during the winter months. Babies who drink from a bottle while lying down are likely to get the infections, too.
Symptoms of ear infections
Intense pain in your child’s ear is usually the first sign of an ear infection. Young children can tell you that their ear hurts, but babies may only cry. Your child may repeatedly pull on the ear that hurts. The pain is usually worse at night and when your child is chewing, sucking a bottle, or lying down. That’s when the pressure is at its greatest. Other symptoms include a runny nose, cough, fever, vomiting, or dizziness, and hearing loss.
What causes an ear infection?
Ear infections happen in the middle ear. They are caused by a viral or bacterial infection. The infection creates pressure in the Eustachian tube. This tube does not work properly when filled with drainage from the nose or mucous from allergies, colds, bacteria, or viruses.
A child’s adenoids (the little bits of tissue that hang above the tonsils at the back of the throat) sometimes can block the opening of Eustachian tubes because they are larger in young children.
How is an ear infection diagnosed?
Your doctor will check for an ear infection by using a small scope with a light to look into your child’s ear. They will know if the eardrum is infected if it looks red. Other signs of infection they may see include fluid in the ear or a ruptured eardrum—which leaves a hole. Your doctor will also look for other symptoms in your child, such as a runny nose, cough, fever, vomiting, and dizziness.
Can an ear infection be prevented or avoided?
Although an ear infection is not contagious, the bacteria or virus that caused it is often contagious. It’s important to:
- Vaccinate your child with a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine to protect against several types of pneumococcal bacteria. This type of bacteria is the most common cause of ear infections. Get your child’s vaccinations on time.
- Practice routine hand washing and avoid sharing food and drinks, especially if your child is exposed to large groups of kids in day care or school settings.
- Avoid second-hand smoke.
- Breastfeed your baby exclusively for the first 6 months and continue breastfeeding for at least 1 year. Place your baby at an angle while feeding.
Common allergy and cold medicines do not protect against ear infections.
Ear infection treatment
Ear infections need to be treated. If left untreated, they can lead to unnecessary pain and permanent hearing loss for your child.
Ear infections usually go away in a few days. Your doctor will likely treat your child’s pain and fever with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers or eardrops. If your child isn’t better in a few days after treatment starts, you may need to take them back to the doctor. At that point, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic if the infection is caused by bacteria.
Doctors are cautious about prescribing antibiotics for ear infections unless they are chronic and frequent. Research shows that over prescribing antibiotics for ear infections is not effective. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends doctors wait 2 to 3 days before prescribing antibiotics for an ear infection in children 2 to 12 years of age who have non-severe symptoms. This allows time to see if the OTC medicines will work.
If your child has chronic ear infections, signs of hearing loss, or speech delays because of hearing loss, your doctor may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor. The ENT may suggest your child have surgery. During this surgery, the ENT inserts tubes inside your child’s middle ear. The tubes relieve the pressure and allow the fluid to drain. Some children naturally have small Eustachian tubes, so this helps correct that problem. As your child’s ears grow and develop, the tubes fall out and the ear infections are no longer a problem. Sometimes, the tubes fall out too soon and have to be replaced. For some children, they never fall out and eventually have to be surgically removed. The surgery is quick and does not require overnight hospitalization.
Your doctor also may recommend this surgery if your child has frequent ear infections, or if your child has Down syndrome, a cleft palate or a weakened immune system.
Living with an ear infection
If your child suffers from several ear infections each year, you’ll want to look out for symptoms every time they have a stuffy nose or congestion.
Never stick anything in your child’s ear to relieve the pain of an ear infection, to remove the tubes or remove a foreign object. See your child’s doctor to have it removed.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How can I keep my child comfortable at night with the pain of an ear infection?
- Is there drainage with an ear infection?
- What is the difference between an ear infection and swimmer’s ear?
- Is my child a candidate for ear tubes?
- What are the risks and benefits of surgically inserting tubes inside my child’s middle ear?
- Should my child get regular hearing tests if they have frequent ear infections?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.
Ear infection - acute
Ear infections are one of the most common reasons parents take their children to the health care provider. The most common type of ear infection is called otitis media. It is caused by swelling and infection of the middle ear. The middle ear is located just behind the eardrum.
An acute ear infection starts over a short period and is painful. Ear infections that last a long time or come and go are called chronic ear infections.
The eustachian tube runs from the middle of each ear to the back of the throat. Normally, this tube drains fluid that is made in the middle ear. If this tube gets blocked, fluid can build up. This can lead to infection.
- Ear infections are common in infants and children because the eustachian tubes are easily clogged.
- Ear infections can also occur in adults, although they are less common than in children.
Anything that causes the eustachian tubes to become swollen or blocked makes more fluid build up in the middle ear behind the eardrum. Some causes are:
- Colds and sinus infections
- Excess mucus and saliva produced during teething
- Infected or overgrown adenoids (lymph tissue in the upper part of the throat)
- Tobacco smoke
Ear infections are also more likely in children who spend a lot of time drinking from a sippy cup or bottle while lying on their back. Milk may enter the eustachian tube, which may increase the risk of an ear infection. Getting water in the ears will not cause an acute ear infection unless the eardrum has a hole in it.
Other risk factors for acute ear infections include:
- Attending day care (especially centers with more than 6 children)
- Changes in altitude or climate
- Cold climate
- Exposure to smoke
- Family history of ear infections
- Not being breastfed
- Pacifier use
- Recent ear infection
- Recent illness of any type (because illness lowers the body's resistance to infection)
- Birth defect, such as deficiency in eustachian tube function
In infants, often the main sign of an ear infection is acting irritable or crying that cannot be soothed. Many infants and children with an acute ear infection have a fever or trouble sleeping. Tugging on the ear is not always a sign that the child has an ear infection.
Symptoms of an acute ear infection in older children or adults include:
- Ear pain
- Fullness in the ear
- Feeling of general illness
- Nasal congestion
- Hearing loss in the affected ear
- Drainage of fluid from the ear
- Loss of appetite
The ear infection may start shortly after a cold. Sudden drainage of yellow or green fluid from the ear may mean the eardrum has ruptured.
All acute ear infections involve fluid behind the eardrum. At home, you can use an electronic ear monitor to check for this fluid. You can buy this device at a drugstore. You still need to see a health care provider to confirm an ear infection.
Your provider will take your medical history and ask about symptoms.
The provider will look inside the ears using an instrument called an otoscope. This exam may show:
- Areas of marked redness
- Bulging of tympanic membrane
- Discharge from the ear
- Air bubbles or fluid behind the eardrum
- A hole (perforation) in the eardrum
The provider might recommend a hearing test if the person has a history of ear infections.
Some ear infections clear on their own without antibiotics. Treating the pain and allowing the body time to heal itself is often all that is needed:
- Apply a warm cloth or warm water bottle to the affected ear.
- Use over-the-counter pain relief drops for ears. Or, ask the provider about prescription eardrops to relieve pain.
- Take over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain or fever. DO NOT give aspirin to children.
All children younger than 6 months with a fever or symptoms of an ear infection should see a provider. Children who are older than 6 months may be watched at home if they DO NOT have:
- A fever higher than 102°F (38.9°C)
- More severe pain or other symptoms
- Other medical problems
If there is no improvement or if symptoms get worse, schedule an appointment with the provider to determine whether antibiotics are needed.
A virus or bacteria can cause ear infections. Antibiotics will not help an infection that is caused by a virus. Most providers don't prescribe antibiotics for every ear infection. However, all children younger than 6 months with an ear infection are treated with antibiotics.
Your provider is more likely to prescribe antibiotics if your child:
- Is under age 2
- Has a fever
- Appears sick
- Does not improve in 24 to 48 hours
If antibiotics are prescribed, it is important to take them every day and to take all of the medicine. DO NOT stop the medicine when symptoms go away. If the antibiotics do not seem to be working within 48 to 72 hours, contact your provider. You may need to switch to a different antibiotic.
Side effects of antibiotics may include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Serious allergic reactions are rare, but may also occur.
Some children have repeat ear infections that seem to go away between episodes. They may receive a smaller, daily dose of antibiotics to prevent new infections.
If an infection does not go away with the usual medical treatment, or if a child has many ear infections over a short period of time, the provider may recommend ear tubes:
- If a child more than 6 months old has had 3 or more ear infections within 6 months or more than 4 ear infections within a 12-month period
- If a child less than 6 months old has had 2 ear infections in a 6- to 12-month period or 3 episodes in 24 months
- If the infection does not go away with medical treatment
In this procedure, a tiny tube is inserted into the eardrum, keeping open a small hole that allows air to get in so fluids can drain more easily (myringotomy).
The tubes often eventually fall out by themselves. Those that don't fall out may be removed in the provider's office.
If the adenoids are enlarged, removing them with surgery may be considered if ear infections continue to occur. Removing tonsils does not seem to help prevent ear infections.
Most often, an ear infection is a minor problem that gets better. Ear infections can be treated, but they may occur again in the future.
Most children will have slight short-term hearing loss during and right after an ear infection. This is due to fluid in the ear. Fluid can stay behind the eardrum for weeks or even months after the infection has cleared.
Speech or language delay is uncommon. It may occur in a child who has lasting hearing loss from many repeated ear infections.
In rare cases, a more serious infection may develop, such as:
- Tearing of the eardrum
- Spreading of infection to nearby tissues, such as infection of the bones behind the ear (mastoiditis) or infection of the brain membrane (meningitis)
- Chronic otitis media
- Collection of pus in or around the brain (abscess)
Contact your provider if:
- You have swelling behind the ear.
- Your symptoms get worse, even with treatment.
- You have high fever or severe pain.
- Severe pain suddenly stops, which may indicate a ruptured eardrum.
- New symptoms appear, especially severe headache, dizziness, swelling around the ear, or twitching of the face muscles.
Let the provider know right away if a child younger than 6 months has a fever, even if the child doesn't have other symptoms.
You can reduce your child's risk of ear infections with the following measures:
- Wash your hands and your child's hands and toys to decrease the chance of getting a cold.
- If possible, choose a day care that has 6 or fewer children. This can reduce your child's chances of getting a cold or other infection.
- Avoid using pacifiers.
- Breastfeed your baby.
- Avoid bottle feeding your child when they are lying down.
- Avoid smoking.
- Make sure your child's immunizations are up to date. The pneumococcal vaccine prevents infections from the bacteria that most commonly cause acute ear infections and many respiratory infections.
Otitis media - acute; Infection - inner ear; Middle ear infection - acute
Haddad J, Dodhia SN. General considerations and evaluation of the ear. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson, KM. eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 654.
Kerschner JE, Preciado D. Otitis media. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson, KM. eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 658.
Pelton SI. Otitis externa, otitis media, and mastoiditis. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 61.
Ranakusuma RW, Pitoyo Y, Safitri ED, et al, Systemic corticosteroids for acute otitis media in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;15;3(3):CD012289. PMID: 29543327 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29543327/.
Rosenfeld RM, Schwartz SR, Pynnonen MA, et al. Clinical practice guideline: tympanostomy tubes in children. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013;149(1 Suppl):S1-S35. PMID: 23818543 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23818543/.
Rosenfeld RM, Shin JJ, Schwartz SR, et al. Clinical practice guideline: otitis media with effusion (update). Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2016;154(1 Suppl):S1-S41. PMID: 26832942 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26832942/.
Schilder AGM, Rosenfeld RM, Venekamp RP. Acute otitis media and otitis media with effusion. In: Flint PW, Francis HW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 199.
Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Internal review and update on 06/03/2021 by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
3 Causes and 3 Remedies for Clogged Ears
Clogged ears are a nuisance that many people experience. Clogged ears are what happens when something blocks the ear canal and makes it difficult for you to hear. Sometimes, your ears unclog themselves in a few days. If you want to know why your ears get clogged and what you can do for fast relief, Healthline offers three causes and three remedies.
3 causes for clogged ears
- Eustachian tube blockage: The Eustachian tube connects your middle ear to your throat. Normally, mucus travels from your ear to the back of your throat because your ears, nose, and throat are connected. However, sometimes the mucus gets trapped in the middle ear and, as a result, you experience a clogged ear. With this kind of blockage, there is usually some type of infection, too, which can include the common cold, the flu, or a sinus infection.
- Change in altitude: Another possible cause for clogged ears is high altitude. This happens when flying on an airplane, scuba diving, or experiencing a change in air pressure outside the body. A clogged ear is the most common effect of pressure change, and there are other symptoms people experience that can be attributed to altitude sickness.
- Earwax: Earwax protects your ear, cleanses the ear canal, and keeps debris from entering your ear. Earwax is usually a good thing, but sometimes it gets hard and causes a blockage in your ear. This can be caused by using cotton swabs to clean your ears, which actually pushes earwax deeper.
If you have experienced one or more of these things, you know how annoying clogged ears can be.
So how do you safely unclog your ears after they get clogged? Three at-home remedies are the Valsalva maneuver, hydrogen peroxide, and ear drops.
3 remedies to unclog ears
- Valsalva maneuver: The first remedy, better known as popping your ears, involves holding your nose and keeping your lips closed while blowing out forcefully. Your cheeks will puff up and, hopefully, your ears will pop. However, if this method doesn’t work right away, do not continually try to blow out. That can cause problems with your eardrum.
- Hydrogen peroxide: Another solution is combining hydrogen peroxide, or rubbing alcohol, with warm water. Make sure your water is not too hot, or it will burn your ear; test the temperature on the back of your hand. Tilt your head to one side so the clogged ear is facing the ceiling, then you can put one or two drops of the solution into your ear using a dropper. Keep your ear tilted for 10 to 15 seconds to remedy the blockage. You might have to do this once or twice a day for a couple of days until it completely clears your ear.
- Ear drops: The final remedy is going to your local pharmacy and purchasing ear drops. If nothing else works, using over-the-counter ear decongestants should help unclog your ears. Depending on the brand, the instructions should be listed on the packaging.
It is important to remember that your ears are a sensitive, delicate part of the body. If you are experiencing prolonged discomfort, you should seek medical attention. Ear, nose, and throat doctors specialize in dealing with clogged ears. Use caution when poking around your ears and trying to unclog them.
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Your Child's Earache: symptoms, treatment, and prevention
Earaches and ear infections are surprisingly common in babies and young children but can be quite a distressing experience if you’re not sure what’s wrong. It’s not always easy to spot the signs of an ear infection, but with a bit of knowledge, you’ll understand why your child gets earaches and what you can do to help.
Earaches can occur in the middle or outer ear. Middle ear earaches are most commonly caused by a bacterial or viral infection. For example, when your child has a cold, bacteria can grow in the passages that connect the middle ear to nose. If these passages block up, the middle ear becomes infected and inflamed. The build-up inside the ear places pressure on the eardrum, causing it to bulge and become painful for your child.
Other causes of earaches such as:
- Fluid building up inside the ear
- Blocked ears from earwax or other objects
- Injury to the ear canal from cotton buds or other objects
- teething or a dental abscess (if accompanied by a toothache)
- tonsillitis or a sore throat (if ear pain occurs with swallowing)
- a perforated eardrum (hole in the eardrum)
- altitude changes (such as during or after a plane trip)
If you’re not sure what’s causing their earache or if you’re worried about your child's’ hearing, speak to your GP.
What are some signs of an earache?
Earache and ear infections can be miserable for a child of any age and be worrying for you, as a parent or carer. The signs to look for include:
- Sharp, dull, or burning pain in one or both ears
- Hearing problems
- Scaly skin or discharge in or around the ear
- Feeling pressure or fullness in the ear
- Lack of energy
- Feeling sick
- Itching and irritation around the ear
- Irritability or crying
- Sleeping problems
For babies who can’t talk, be on the lookout if your baby is:
- Pulling at their ear
- Ignoring loud sounds
- Being irritable
- Not wanting to eat
- Losing their balance
How can I help relieve my child's earache or ear infection?
Most earaches usually clear up within a few days. Symptoms of ear infections can sometimes last for up to a week, however.
Tips you can try at home include getting your child to rest in an upright position instead of lying down, to help relieve some of the pressure and place a warm flannel against the affected ear to help relieve the pain.
If your child is in pain you can also give them some pain relief medicine to soothe their earache. Nurofen for Children 3 months to 12 years contains ibuprofen which has anti-inflammatory properties.
In older children, nasal sprays can help to reduce the swelling in the nasal passages which leads to the middle ears. Using a nasal spray will not help the ear infection clear away any faster but if your child also has a stuffy nose, it can help to unblock it for a few hours. However; do not give this to your child except under the advice of your GP or pharmacist, and never for more than days in a row. Avoid using any over-the-counter ear drops without first seeing your GP, as they can cause problems if your child's eardrum has a perforation (holey).
Do you need antibiotics for an ear infection?
Most ear infections are caused by viruses which can't be treated with antibiotics. Many people believe that antibiotics will help to reduce ear pain, but this isn't the case. Aside from using painkillers and monitoring your child's wellness and body temperature, often the best course of action is to wait for the ear infection to clear on its own.
Your GP may decide to prescribe antibiotics, however, if:
- the ear infection doesn't start to get better after three days
- fluid is coming out of your child's ear
- your child is under two and has an infection in both ears
- your child has a condition (such as cystic fibrosis) which may increase the risk of complications
Is it normal to have regular earaches and ear infections?
Regular ear infections in children can lead to a condition called glue ear. Glue ear occurs when sticky fluid builds up in your child's ear. This can lead to unclear speech or behavioural problems. Children with glue ear or regular ear infections may be treated with something called an ear tube - a narrow tube made of plastic or metal which allows air to flow to and from the middle ear. If your child is regularly suffering from ear infections, takes a long time to recover, or there is discharge coming out of the ear, see your GP.
How to prevent ear infections
Ear infections aren't fun so it's great to know that there are steps you can take to try and prevent them. Some ways you can prevent ear infections include:
- make sure your child is up to date with vaccinations
- avoid smoking around your child
- avoid using a dummy after your child is six months old
- don't stick cotton wool buds or your fingers in your child's ears
- insert earplugs into your child's ears when they swim
- avoid getting water or shampoo into your child's ears
- when bathing your child, pull a shower cap over the ears
- treat conditions that affect your child's ears, such as eczema or an allergy to hearing aids
As always, remember to see your doctor if your child's earache doesn't improve or if you have any concerns.
When to call a doctor
Sometimes, ear infections do not get better on their own or may signal something more serious.
See your GP if your child has any of the following:
- a very high temperature
- an earache that doesn't improve after 3 days
- swelling or fluid coming out of the ear
- hearing loss
- a severe sore throat, vomiting, or dizziness
- regular ear infections
- a long-term medical condition or weakened immune system
If an ear infection is causing severe pain that cannot be relieved by medication, a doctor may decide to make a small cut inside the ear to drain away the excess fluid.
Ear infections are very common, particularly in children. You do not always need to see a GP for an ear infection as they often get better on their own within 3 days.
Check if it's an ear infection
The symptoms of an ear infection usually start quickly and include:
- pain inside the ear
- a high temperature
- being sick
- a lack of energy
- difficulty hearing
- discharge running out of the ear
- a feeling of pressure or fullness inside the ear
- itching and irritation in and around the ear
- scaly skin in and around the ear
Young children and babies with an ear infection may also:
- rub or pull their ear
- not react to some sounds
- be irritable or restless
- be off their food
- keep losing their balance
Most ear infections clear up within 3 days, although sometimes symptoms can last up to a week.
How to treat an ear infection yourself
To help relieve any pain and discomfort from an ear infection:
use painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (children under 16 should not take aspirin)
place a warm or cold flannel on the ear
remove any discharge by wiping the ear with cotton wool
do not put anything inside your ear to remove earwax, such as cotton buds or your finger
do not let water or shampoo get in your ear
do not use decongestants or antihistamines – there's no evidence they help with ear infections
A pharmacist can help with an ear infection
Speak to a pharmacist if you think you have an outer ear infection.
They can recommend acidic eardrops to help stop bacteria or fungus spreading.
Find a pharmacy
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if you or your child have:
- a very high temperature or feel hot and shivery
- earache that does not start to get better after 3 days
- swelling around the ear
- fluid coming from the ear
- hearing loss or a change in hearing
- other symptoms, like being sick, a severe sore throat or dizziness
- regular ear infections
- a long-term medical condition – such as diabetes or a heart, lung, kidney or neurological disease
- a weakened immune system – because of chemotherapy, for example
Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: how to contact a GP
It's still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:
- visit their website
- use the NHS App
- call them
Find out about using the NHS during COVID-19
What happens at your appointment
The GP will often use a small light (an otoscope) to look in the ear.
Some otoscopes blow a small puff of air into the ear. This checks for blockages, which could be a sign of an infection.
Treatment from a GP
The GP may prescribe medicine for your ear infection, depending on what's caused it.
Infections inside the ear
Antibiotics are not usually offered because infections inside the ear often clear up on their own and antibiotics make little difference to symptoms, including pain.
Antibiotics might be prescribed if:
- an ear infection does not start to get better after 3 days
- you or your child has any fluid coming out of the ear
- you or your child has an illness that means there's a risk of complications, such as cystic fibrosis
They may also be prescribed if your child is less than 2 years old and has an infection in both ears.
Outer ear infections
The GP might prescribe:
- antibiotic eardrops – to treat a bacterial infection
- steroid eardrops – to bring down swelling
- antifungal eardrops – to treat a fungal infection
- antibiotic tablets – if your bacterial infection is severe
If you have a spot or boil in your ear, the GP may pierce it with a needle to drain the pus.
Eardrops may not work if they're not used correctly.
Preventing ear infections
You cannot always prevent ear infections, particularly inner ear infections caused by colds and flu.
To help avoid inner ear infections:
- make sure your child is up to date with vaccinations
- keep your child away from smoky environments
- try not to give your child a dummy after they're 6 months old
To help avoid outer ear infections:
- do not stick cotton wool buds or your fingers in your ears
- use earplugs or a swimming hat over your ears when you swim
- try to avoid water or shampoo getting into your ears when you have a shower or bath
- treat conditions that affect your ears, such as eczema or an allergy to hearing aids
Page last reviewed: 16 June 2021
Next review due: 16 June 2024