Treating middle ear infection

Most middle ear infections (otitis media) clear up within three to fivedaysand don't need any specific treatment.

You can relieve any pain and a high temperature using over the counter painkillers such as paracetamol and Painkillers, ibuprofen .

Make sure any painkillers you give to your child are appropriate for their age. Many cases arecaused by viruses, which antibiotics aren't effective against.

Using antibiotics to treat minor bacterial infections also increases the likelihood of bacteriabecomingresistant to them over time. Thismeans more serious infections could become untreatable in the future. Read about antibiotic resistance for more information.

If antibiotics are needed,a five-day course of an antibiotic called amoxicillin isusually prescribed. This is often given as a liquid. Common side effects of amoxicillin include:

  • a rash
  • feeling sick
  • diarrhoea

An alternative antibiotic such as erythromycinor clarithromycin may be used for people allergic to amoxicillin.

In some cases, your GPmay give youa prescription that you can choose to pick up a few days later if the condition hasn't improved by then.

Adults and children who develop a long-term middle ear infection (chronic suppurative otitis media) may benefit from short courses of antibiotic ear drops.


Antibioticsare usually only consideredif your child:

  • has a serious health condition that makes them more vulnerable tocomplications, such as cystic fibrosis or congenital heart disease
  • is less than three months old
  • is less thantwo years old with an infection in both ears
  • hasdischarge coming from their ear


Adults may be prescribed antibiotics if:

  • they havea serious health condition that makes them more vulnerable tocomplications, such as cystic fibrosis or congenital heart disease
  • symptoms are showing no signs of improvement after four days


For children with recurrent severe middle ear infections, tiny tubes may be insertedinto the eardrum to help drain fluid. These tubes are called grommets.

Grommets are inserted under general anaesthetic , which means your childwill beasleep and won't feel any pain. The procedureusually only takes about 15 minutes and your child should be able to go home the same day.

A grommet helps keep the eardrum open for several months. As the eardrum starts to heal, the grommet will slowly be pushed out of the eardrum and eventually falls out. This process happens naturally and shouldn't be painful. Most grommets fall out withinsix to 12 months of being inserted.

Some children need another procedure to replace the grommets if they're still experiencing problems.

Treatment with grommets isn't routinely funded in all areas or for adults with recurrent otitis media.


Chronic usually means a condition that continues for a long time or keeps coming back.
Antibiotics are medicines used to treat infections caused by micro-organisms, usually bacteria or fungi. For example amoxicillin, streptomycin and erythromycin.
Pain is an unpleasant physical or emotional feeling that your body produces as a warning sign it has been damaged.
A high temperature, also known as a fever, is when someone's body temperature rises above the normal 37C (98.6F).
Antihistamine medicine counteracts the action of histamine (a chemical released during an allergic reaction). For example loratadine, hydroxyzine.
Inflammation is the body's response to infection, irritation or injury, which causes redness, swelling, pain and sometimes a feeling of heat in the affected area.
Acute means occurring suddenly or over a short period of time.
Decongestant medicine relieves congestion by reducing the swelling of the lining of the nose and sinuses and drying up the mucus.
Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 1 Mar 2016