Ear Infections (Otitis Media)

Ear infections are common in young children. They can be painful and can cause hearing loss. See your doctor if you think your child has an infection. See an audiologist if you worry about how your child hears.

On this page:

About Ear Infections

Your ear has three parts— the outer, the middle, and the inner ear. Infections happen in the middle ear, which is the small space behind your eardrum. Ear infections are also called acute otitis media. They can happen in one or both ears.

Ear infections are common in children and can be painful. Many children will have at least one ear infection by the time they are 1 year old.

Ear infections are more common in children because of the way their ears develop. We all have a tube that runs from our middle ear to the back of our throat. This Eustachian tube helps the middle ear drain. In children, this tube is smaller and is not tilted like it is in adults. This makes it easier for an infection to block the tube.

Sometimes, children get fluid in their middle ear but do not have an infection. This is otitis media with fluid. You may hear or see the term "otitis media with effusion" or "fluid in the middle ear."

Constant ear fluid is more common in children under 2, but it can happen in older children. Fluid in the middle ear can make it harder to hear. Hearing loss at a young age can lead to speech and language delays.

Signs of an Ear Infection

It can be hard to know if your child has an ear infection. A young child cannot tell you that her ear hurts. Signs of an ear infection include:

  • Tugging or pulling at her ear
  • Crying more than usual
  • Fever
  • Not responding to sounds
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fluid draining from her ear

Treatment for Ear Infections

Your doctor may give your child antibiotics to treat an ear infection. Antibiotics will help only if it is a bacterial ear infection. Your doctor may choose not to give your child medicine if your child has a virus.

Treatment for ear infections with fluid includes:

  • Waiting for the fluid to go away. For many children, ear fluid will go away in a few months.
  • Surgery to put a tube in your child’s eardrum. This tube will let the fluid drain out. Your child may get tubes if he has many ear infections or if fluid will not go away. An ear, nose, and throat doctor, or ENT, does this surgery.

Talk with your child’s doctor about what is best for your child. It is important to keep follow-up appointments.

Ear Infections and Hearing

It is harder for your child to hear sounds when there is fluid in her middle ear. It causes a conductive hearing loss. Imagine trying to hear something underwater. That is what it might sound like to your child.

Some children will not have any problems hearing when they have an infection. Others may have a short-term hearing loss. Your child's hearing loss may go away once the fluid goes away. If he has ear infections over and over again, his hearing may not get better. It is important to get the right treatment for ear infections.

You may not know when your child has fluid in her middle ear but no infection. She may not have a fever or complain of any pain. She could have fluid in her ear for weeks or months. During this time, she may miss hearing sounds and words. You should take your child to the doctor if you think there are any problems.

What To Do If You Think Your Child Has an Ear Infection

A doctor should handle the medical treatment. Ear infections require attention right away, from a doctor or ENT. Your child may need other help if he has a lot of ear infections or fluid in his ears. He may need to see an audiologist and a speech-language pathologist, or SLP.

The audiologist can test how well your child's middle ear and eardrum work. The audiologist can also test her hearing. An SLP tests your child's speech and language skills. The SLP can work with your child if she has any delays or problems speaking.

To find an audiologist or SLP near you, visit ProFind.

ASHA Corporate Partners