When should I return to my healthcare provider for a follow-up visit?

Your healthcare provider will let you know when you need to return for a follow-up visit. At that visit, you or your child’s eardrum will be examined to be certain that the infection is going away. Your healthcare provider may also want to test you or your child's hearing.

Follow-up exams are very important, especially if the infection has caused a hole in the eardrum.

When should I call the doctor about an ear infection?

Call your healthcare provider immediately if:

  • You or your child develops a stiff neck.
  • Your child acts sluggish, looks or acts very sick, or does not stop crying despite all efforts.
  • Your child’s walk is not steady; he or she is physically very weak.
  • You or your child’s ear pain is severe.
  • You or your child has a fever over 104° F (40° C).
  • Your child is showing signs of weakness in their face (look for a crooked smile).
  • You see bloody or pus-filled fluid draining from the ear.

Call your healthcare provider during office hours if:

  • The fever remains or comes back more than 48 hours after starting an antibiotic.
  • Ear pain is not better after three days of taking an antibiotic.
  • Ear pain is severe.
  • You have any questions or concerns.

Why do children get many more ear infections than adults? Will my child always get ear infections?

Children are more likely than adults to get ear infections for these reasons:

  • The eustachian tubes in young children are shorter and more horizontal. This shape encourages fluid to gather behind the eardrum.
  • The immune system of children, which in the body’s infection-fighting system, is still developing.
  • The adenoids in children are relatively larger than they are in adults. The adenoids are the small pads of tissue above the throat and behind the nose and near the eustachian tubes. As they swell to fight infection, they may block the normal ear drainage from the eustachian tube into the throat. This blockage of fluid can lead to a middle ear infection.

Most children stop getting ear infections by age 8.

Do I need to cover my ears if I go outside with an ear infection?

No, you do not need to cover your ears if you go outside.

Can I swim if I have an ear infection?

Swimming is okay as long as you don’t have a tear (perforation) in your eardrum or have drainage coming out of your ear.

Can I travel by air or be in high altitudes if I have an ear infection?

Air travel or a trip to the mountains is safe, although temporary pain is possible during takeoff and landing when flying. Swallowing fluids, chewing on gum during descent, or having a child suck on a pacifier will help relieve discomfort during air travel.

Are ear infections contagious?

No, ear infections are not contagious.

When can my child return to normal daily activities?

Children can return to school or day care as soon as the fever is gone.

What are other causes of ear pain?

Other causes of ear pain include:

  • A sore throat.
  • Teeth coming in in a baby.
  • An infection of the lining of the ear canal. This is also called “swimmer’s ear.”
  • Pressure build up in the middle ear caused by allergies and colds.

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