Ear infections, also called Otitis Media, are a very common condition in children.

More than 2/3 of children will have one of more ear infections by the age of 3, half of these will have more than three episodes.Most ear infections are usually self-limiting, meaning that they will not require treatment with antibiotics. They are mainly caused by viral infections that will also cause a high temperature, a runny nose and cough.

Most viral infections should begin to improve after three days (72 hours) and symptoms should be well controlled with regular paracetamol and ibuprofen

Occasionally a viral infection may cause swelling of the drainage (Eustachian) tube of the middle ear, causing the ear to fill with fluid leading to a suppurative otitis media. This trapped fluid may become infected with a bacteria resulting in:

  • A child who is becoming progressively unwell
  • High temperatures not controlled with paracetamol/ibuprofen
  • A discharge from the ear (burst ear drum)
  • Severe ear pain

Only for these children will antibiotics be of benefit.

Unfortunately antibiotics do nothing to speed up recovery of a simple viral infection.

Occasionally some children may develop a chronic blockage of the drainage tube, leading to what is known as a “Glue Ear” where the ear. These children may need referral to a specialist for insertion of a temporary drainage tube known as a grommet.

If you suspect that your child may have an ear infection, it is important to give plenty of pain relief and seek help if they are becoming progressively unwell of have pain and fever despite treatment.

However, if they are responding well to pain relief, are not too unwell and are improving after 72 hours, medical attention is usually not required.

For more information on managing ear infections and other common illnesses, UnderTheWeather.ie is a very useful resource