Should I go to urgent care for ear infection?

Ear Infection Questions

Is this your child’s symptom?

  • Your child was diagnosed with an ear infection
  • Your child’s ears were recently looked at by a doctor
  • You are worried that the fever or ear pain is not getting better fast enough
  • Your child is still taking an antibiotic for the ear infection
  • The main symptom is an earache.
  • Younger children will cry, act fussy or have trouble sleeping because of pain.
  • About 50% of children with an ear infection will have a fever.
  • Complication: In 5% to 10% of children, the eardrum will develop a small tear. This is from the pressure in the middle ear. The ear then drains cloudy fluid or pus. This small hole most often heals over in 2 or 3 days.

Cause of Ear Infections

  • A bacterial infection of the middle ear (the space behind the eardrum)
  • Blocked eustachian tube, usually as part of a common cold. The eustachian tube joins the middle ear to the back of the throat.
  • Blockage results in middle ear fluid (called viral otitis).
  • If the fluid becomes infected (bacterial otitis), the fluid turns to pus. This causes the eardrum to bulge out and can cause a lot of pain.
  • Ear infections peak at age 6 months to 2 years. They are a common problem until age 8.
  • The onset of ear infections is often on day 3 of a cold.
  • How often do kids get ear infections? 90% of children have at least 1 ear infection. Frequent ear infections occur in 20% of children. Ear infections are the most common bacterial infection of young children.

When to Call for Ear Infection Questions

Call 911 Now

  • Not moving or too weak to stand
  • You think your child has a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Stiff neck (can’t touch chin to the chest)
  • Walking is not steady
  • Fever over 104° F (40° C)
  • Ear pain is severe and not better 2 hours after taking ibuprofen
  • Crying is bad and not better 2 hours after taking ibuprofen
  • Pink or red swelling behind the ear
  • Crooked smile (weakness of 1 side of the face)
  • New vomiting
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Taking antibiotic more than 48 hours and fever still there or comes back
  • Taking antibiotic more than 3 days and ear pain not better
  • Taking antibiotic more than 3 days and ear discharge still there or comes back
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Ear infection on antibiotic with no other problems
  • Normal hearing loss with an ear infection
  • Prevention of ear infections
  • Ear tube (ventilation tube) surgery questions

Seattle Children’s Urgent Care Locations

If your child’s illness or injury is life-threatening, call 911.

Care Advice

Treatment for an Ear Infection

  1. What You Should Know About Ear Infections:
    • Ear infections are very common in young children.
    • Most ear infections are not cured after the first dose of antibiotic.
    • Often, children don’t get better the first day.
    • Most children get better slowly over 2 to 3 days.
    • Note: For mild ear infections in older children, antibiotics may not be needed. This is an option if over 2 years old and infection looks viral.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Keep Giving the Antibiotic:
    • The antibiotic will kill the bacteria that are causing the ear infection.
    • Try not to forget any of the doses.
    • Give the antibiotic until it is gone. Reason: To stop the ear infection from flaring up again.
  3. Fever Medicine:
    • For fevers above 102° F (39° C), give an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
    • Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil).
    • Note: Fevers less than 102° F (39° C) are important for fighting infections.
    • For all fevers: Keep your child well hydrated. Give lots of cold fluids.
  4. Pain Medicine:
    • To help with the pain, give an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
    • Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil).
    • Use as needed.
  5. Cold Pack for Pain:
    • Put a cold wet washcloth on the outer ear for 20 minutes. This should help the pain until the pain medicine starts to work.
    • Note: Some children prefer heat for 20 minutes.
    • Caution: Heat or cold kept on too long could cause a burn or frostbite.
  6. Limits on Activity:
    • Your child can go outside and does not need to cover the ears.
    • Swimming is fine as long as there is no drainage from the ear. Also, do not swim if there is a tear in the eardrum.
    • Air Travel. Children with ear infections can travel safely by aircraft if they are taking antibiotics. For most, flying will not make their ear pain worse.
    • Give your child a dose of ibuprofen 1 hour before take-off. This will help with any pain they might have. Also, during descent (coming down for landing) have your child swallow fluids. Sucking on a pacifier may help as well. Children over age 6 can chew gum.
  7. Return to School:
    • Your child can go back to school when any fever is gone.
    • Your child should feel well enough to join in normal activities.
    • Ear infections cannot be spread to others.
  8. What to Expect:
    • Once on antibiotics, your child will get better in 2 or 3 days.
    • Make sure you give your child the antibiotic as directed.
    • The fever should be gone by 2 days (48 hours).
    • The ear pain should be better by 2 days. It should be gone by 3 days (72 hours).
  9. Ear Infection Discharge:
    • If pus is draining from the ear, the eardrum probably has a small tear. This can be normal with an ear infection. Discharge can also occur if your child has ear tubes.
    • The pus may be blood-tinged.
    • Most often, this heals well after the ear infection is treated.
    • Wipe the discharge away as you see it.
    • Do not plug the ear canal with cotton. (Reason: Retained pus can cause an infection of the lining of the ear canal)
  10. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Fever lasts more than 2 days on antibiotics
    • Ear pain becomes severe or crying becomes nonstop
    • Ear pain lasts more than 3 days on antibiotics
    • Ear discharge is not better after 3 days on antibiotics
    • You think your child needs to be seen
    • Your child becomes worse

Treatment for Hearing Loss with an Ear Infection

  1. Brief Hearing Loss:
    • During an ear infection, fluid builds up in the middle ear space.
    • The fluid can cause a mild hearing loss for a short time.
    • It will slowly get better and go away with the antibiotic.
    • The fluid is no longer infected, but sometimes, may take weeks to go away. In 90% of children, it clears up by itself over 1 to 2 months.
    • Permanent harm to the hearing is very rare.
  2. Talking With Your Child:
    • Get close to your child and get eye contact.
    • Speak in a louder voice than you usually use.
    • Decrease any background noise from radio or TV while talking with your child.
  3. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Hearing loss not better after the antibiotic is done.

Prevention of Recurrent Ear Infections

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Some children have ear infections that keep coming back.
    • If this is your child’s case, here are some ways to prevent future ones.
  2. Avoid Tobacco Smoke:
    • Contact with tobacco smoke can lead to ear infections.
    • It also makes them harder to treat.
    • No one should smoke around your child. This includes in your home, your car or at child care.
  3. Avoid Colds:
    • Most ear infections start with a cold. During the first year of life, try to reduce contact with other sick children.
    • Try to put off using a large child care center during the first year. Instead, try using a sitter in your home. Another option might be a small home-based child care.
  4. Breastfeed:
    • Breastfeed your baby during the first 6 to 12 months of life.
    • Antibodies in breast milk lower the rate of ear infections.
    • If you breastfeed, continue it.
    • If you do not, think about it with your next child.
  5. Do Not Prop the Bottle:
    • During feedings, hold your baby with the head higher than the stomach.
    • Feeding while lying down flat can lead to ear infections. It causes formula to flow back into the middle ear.
    • Having babies hold their own bottle also causes milk to drain into the middle ear.
  6. Get All Suggested Vaccines:
    • Vaccines protect your child from serious infections.
    • The pneumococcal and flu shots also help to prevent some ear infections.
  7. Control Allergies:
    • Allergies may lead to some ear infections.
    • If your baby has a constant runny or blocked nose, suspect an allergy.
    • If your child has other allergies like eczema, ask your child’s doctor about this. The doctor can check for a milk protein or soy protein allergy.
  8. Check Any Snoring:
    • Large adenoids can cause snoring or mouth breathing. Suspect this if your toddler snores every night or breathes through his mouth.
    • Large adenoids can contribute to ear infections.
    • Talk to your child’s doctor about this.

Ear Tube Surgery Questions

  1. Ear Tubes:
    • Ear tubes are tiny plastic tubes that are put through the eardrum. They are placed by an ENT doctor.
    • The tubes allow fluid to drain out of the middle ear space. They also allow air to re-enter the space.
    • This lowers the risk of repeated ear infections and returns the hearing to normal.
  2. Ear Tubes – When Are They Needed?
    • Fluid has been present in the middle ear nonstop for over 4 months. Both ears have fluid.
    • Also, the fluid has caused a hearing loss greater than 20 decibels.
    • Hearing should be tested first. Some children have nearly normal hearing and tubes are not needed.
    • Ear infections that do not clear up after trying many antibiotics may need tubes.
    • Prevention should be tried before turning to surgery.
    • Talk to your child’s doctor about when ear tubes are needed.
  3. What to Expect:
    • In most cases, the tubes come out after about a year. They fall out of the ear on their own. This happens with the normal movement of earwax.
    • If the tubes stay in over 2 years, talk with your child’s doctor. The surgeon may need to take them out.
  4. Risks of Ear Tubes:
    • After the tubes come out, they may leave scars on the eardrum. They may also leave a small hole that doesn’t heal. Both of these problems can cause a small hearing loss.
    • Because of these possible problems, there is a small risk with ear tubes. There is also a small risk when giving anesthesia to young children.
    • Therefore, doctors suggest ear tubes only for children who really need them.

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the ‘Call Your Doctor’ symptoms.

Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.

Last Reviewed: 02/01/2020

Last Revised: 03/14/2019

Copyright 2000-2019 Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC.

Timely Treatment for Ear Infections

If you suspect your child might have an ear infection, bring him in to your local MedExpress center. Our friendly, welcoming medical team can quickly evaluate your child so you can start treatment to get your little one feeling better fast.

What is an Ear Infection?

An ear infection – or acute otitis media – can occur when the middle ear becomes inflamed from a viral infection or allergies and causes fluid to build up behind the ear drum. This fluid buildup can also be caused from swelling in the Eustachian tubes, tubes found in the middle ear, or surrounding tissues. Over time the fluid can become infected by bacteria.

The Role of Eustachian Tubes
The Eustachian tubes go from each middle ear to high in the back of your throat, where they can open and close to regulate air pressure and drain fluid in the ears.

Children are more susceptible to ear infections because their Eustachian tubes are narrower and more horizontal, making it more difficult for the tubes to drain.

Symptoms of Ear Infections

An ear infection may be present without any apparent symptoms. Or, your child may exhibit a range of these:

  • Ear pain, which can be worse when lying down.
  • Tugs or pulls at ear.
  • Cries more than usual.
  • Fails to respond to sounds.
  • Is unusually irritable.
  • Has a fever.
  • Has drainage from the ear.
  • Has a headache.

Although ear infections are more common in children, adults can get them, too. If you notice any of the above symptoms after you’ve had a cold or a flare up of seasonal allergies, visit MedExpress for an evaluation.

Diagnosing Ear Infections

To diagnose an ear infection, your MedExpress medical team will need information about symptoms and will perform a physical exam. During the exam, the physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner will use an otoscope to look inside the ears.

If the ear looks inflamed, a pneumatic otoscope may be used to confirm whether there is fluid behind the eardrum. A pneumatic otoscope gently puffs air against the eardrum, which should cause the eardrum to move. If the eardrum doesn’t move, or only moves a little, then that means the middle ear is filled with fluid.

Treating Ear Infections

Treatment for an ear infection depends upon the patient’s age and the severity of the infection. Some ear infections get better without the use of antibiotics.

Wait and Watch
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a “wait-and-see” approach in the appropriate patient, depending on age and severity of symptoms. Our medical team can evaluate children to determine the appropriate treatment – whether that is medication right away or “wait-and-see.”

If it’s determined that a bacterial infection is present, it may be necessary to treat the bacterial infection with antibiotics. The antibiotics prescribed will be based on age, severity of infection, and whether the patient has an allergy to penicillin.

Managing Discomfort
While you wait until the infection clears, there are a couple of things you can do to manage the discomfort. First, you can try placing a warm compress over the affected ear. Next, you can use ibuprofen or acetaminophen to lessen the pain.

Earaches and Ear Cleaning

Though kids are often the targets of earaches, they trouble grownups as well. Earaches can happen in both ears, but usually only affect one ear at a time. The infection, which may cause a never-ending pain or an inconsistent ache in your ear, can also cause fever, dizziness and hearing loss.


  • Ear infection
  • Earwax buildup
  • Foreign objects in the ear (such as cotton swabs)
  • Sinus infection
  • Strep throat
  • Water or shampoo trapped in the ear
  • Eczema in the ear
  • Infected tooth
  • Perforated eardrum


Your earache may also come with one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Severe ear pain
  • Extreme headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance
  • Swelling around the ear
  • Pus or blood drainage from ear
  • Infected tooth
  • Perforated eardrum


For an ear infection, your physician may prescribe oral antibiotics, eardrops, or both. Oftentimes antibiotics are not needed for middle ear infections because the infection will clear on its own. However, antibiotics may be needed for more severe infections and those that last longer than a few days.

Your medical provider will use an otoscope to examine inside your ear to help make a diagnosis. If you do receive an antibiotic, make sure that you finish your prescription — it’s important. This helps to guarantee that the infection you’re suffering from will clear up completely. Don’t just skip the medications once your symptoms improve.

If your ear pain is caused by wax buildup, the doctor may prescribe wax-softening eardrops. This should cause the wax to fall out. Your physician may also flush out the wax or she may use a vacuum-suction device.

Should I go to Indigo?

MultiCare Indigo Urgent Care can diagnosis your earache. If you have an ear infection that requires antibiotics, we can prescribe you medication so it will get better. If you do not need an antibiotic, your medical provider can provide other treatment options to ease the pain.

It’s especially important to take infants and small children who show signs of ear pain (grabbing at their ears, inconsolable crying) to see a doctor.

If you have any of these symptoms along with your earache, it’s probably best for you to visit your nearest emergency department:

  • Swelling or a knot has formed behind or under the ear
  • You have difficulty moving parts of your face in the usual way
  • You have weakness or feel lethargic
  • Sudden high fever
  • Prolonged dizziness, loss of balance, extreme headaches
  • Seizures

Find an Indigo Urgent Care location near you.

Other Causes

You may feel pain in your ears even when the source is somewhere else in your body, like a toothache. That’s because the nerves in your face and neck pass very close to your inner ear. Doctors call this type of pain that starts in one area but is felt in another “referred pain.”

If your earache comes with a severe sore throat, it could be an infection like tonsillitis or pharyngitis. In fact, ear pain is often the worst symptom of one of these conditions. Learn more about sore throat symptoms.

Tooth abscesses, cavities, and impacted molars also can cause ear pain. Your doctor will be able to tell if your teeth are to blame by tapping on a tooth or your gums to see if they feel sore. Learn more about toothaches.

The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is the “hinge” of your jaw that sits directly below your ears. You might get TMJ pain from grinding your teeth, or it could be a symptom of arthritis. The ache in your ears or face comes after you chew, talk, or yawn. To treat it, take over-the-counter pain medicine and put warm compresses on your jaw. Try not to clench your teeth. You may benefit from using a mouth guard when you sleep. This can help ease the tension that causes ear pain. Eating soft foods will help, too. Learn more about causes of jaw pain.

Some causes of ear pain can be serious such as tumors or infections, including cellulitis or shingles. If your ear pain is severe, doesn’t go away within a few days of home treatment, or comes with a high fever or sore throat, or you get a new rash, visit your doctor right away for treatment and to rule out something more serious.

When to See the Doctor for an Ear Infection

Having an ear infection is bad enough — but when you or your child are dealing with the pain, you also have another decision to make: Should you go to the doctor or take a wait-and-see approach? Even though ear pain can sometimes be managed at home, there are also times when you need a doctor to diagnose the cause of the pain and prescribe an appropriate treatment.

Read on for some telltale signs that you need a doctor:

When to Seek Immediate Medical Attention

In general, middle-ear infections (otitis media) often result in pain, difficulty hearing, and a feeling of fullness in the ear, mainly due to fluid build-up inside the inner ear and Eustachian tube, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

However, if ear pain is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, you should seek medical attention right away:

  • A knot or swelling formed under or behind the ear
  • Difficulty moving parts of your face in a normal way
  • Personality changes — such as a child becoming extremely fussy or lethargic
  • Sudden high fever
  • Seizure

Age is also a consideration. “Ear infections are more concerning in very young children, under 6 months of age, who have severe pain or high fever, infection in both ears, or may have a rupture ,” says otolaryngologist David Tunkel, MD, director of pediatric otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. If your young child is showing signs of ear pain (like grabbing at his or her ear), call your pediatrician.

At the Doctor’s Office

If you go to a doctor for an ear infection, a nurse will take your temperature, blood pressure, and the details about your symptoms, such as how long you’ve had your infection and what you’ve tried at home, says otolaryngology nurse Brenda Speed, RNP, in practice with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. Next, a doctor or nurse will look inside your ear to assess your ear canal and your eardrum. They may also look at your teeth, jaw, and neck.

Treatment options will depend on your particular infection.

  • For a middle ear infection: If your doctor sees that your ear drum is swollen and full of fluid or pus, you might be given a prescription for antibiotics. Depending on how severe your ear infection is, your doctor may also suggest managing your symptoms at home before taking antibiotics.
  • For swimmer’s ear: Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) is an infection of the ear canal that usually develops after you’ve been in moist environments, like a swimming pool. If your ear canal is inflamed from swimmer’s ear, your doctor might prescribe antibiotic and steroid drops to fight infection and swelling. You may also be given pain medication.

Don’t be surprised if your doctor doesn’t prescribe antibiotics for your ear infection. You can expect an acute ear infection to last one to two weeks, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, with any fluid behind the ear drum lingering longer than that. “Many ear infections do not need to be healed with antibiotics,” Dr. Tunkel says.

After the Doctor Visit

Once you’ve seen your doctor and are back home, follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. Take all antibiotics as prescribed, and don’t stop taking them until the prescribed amount is gone — even when you feel better. Go back to see your doctor for follow-up, or earlier if your symptoms don’t begin to improve within a few days.

Managing Ear Pain at Home

If your doctor recommends that you continue treating your ear infection at home, or if you decide you can treat your or your child’s infection on your own, there are several ways to manage the symptoms, including:

  • Use pain meds. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are the most effective ways to control pain, and can also help with fever, Tunkel notes. Keep track of your fever and how it responds to medications.
  • Target the congestion. Otolaryngologist Eugene Chio, MD, an assistant professor in the otolaryngology department at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, recommends over-the-counter decongestants if you suspect that congestion is contributing to your pain.
  • Use a hot compress. “Warm, moist heat to the ear can help you feel better,” says Speed. Soak a washcloth with warm water, wring out the excess, and hold it against your ear.
  • Try the “warm steam” approach. The steam from a bath or shower can help loosen congestion and ease your discomfort.
  • “Pop” your ears. This will help the fluid drain, says Speed. Hold your nose, close your mouth, and try to force air into your nose. You should hear or feel a “pop” in your ear.
  • Try a vinegar and alcohol rinse. If you suspect that you have swimmer’s ear, try putting a mixture of vinegar and rubbing alcohol into a dropper and inserting the liquid into your ear, Dr. Chio says.
  • Eat soft food. If your ear pain is worse when you chew, swallow, or yawn, try eating softer foods, Speed suggests.

If these approaches don’t work, you should go — or go back — to your doctor or pediatrician. “If symptoms do not improve after a day or two or if symptoms are severe, go to the doctor,” Chio says.

​The painful truth about adult ear infections

It’s the middle of the night and you wake up with a sharp, stabbing pain in your ear. You’re pretty sure you have an ear infection. You’re surprised, because you didn’t know adults could get ear infections. As it turns out, they can.

What is an ear infection?

While mostly thought of as a childhood ailment, a little less than 20 percent of ear infections occur in adults. Ear infections are more common in children because their Eustachian tubes are smaller and can therefore become blocked easier.

Ear infections can affect the inner, middle, and outer ear, and can be caused by inflammation, bacteria or viruses, or water that remains in your ear after swimming or bathing.

What are the symptoms of an adult ear infection?

Symptoms of adult ear infections include ear pain, muffled hearing, a feeling of fullness in the ear, ear drainage, and nausea.

How can I prevent an adult ear infection?

To prevent an ear infection, make sure to completely dry your ears after any extended period of time in the water. Also, not only should you not smoke, but you should avoid secondhand smoke if possible. Try to avoid people with upper respiratory problems, and make sure allergies are managed appropriately.

Why and how should I treat my ear infection?

Most ear infections are treated with antibiotics. If you don’t get treatment for an ear infection, you not only run the risk of the infection spreading to other parts of your head, but it may even cause permanent hearing loss. If the infection persists, your doctor may try other antibiotics or even consider you for ear tubes. You should strongly consider going to the emergency room if your ear pain is accompanied by nausea or a high fever.

Other causes of ear pain

If your only symptom is an earache, you might have another issue that causes ear pain, including dental disease, TMJ (jaw joint) pain, neck pain, or throat pain. Adult ear infections or ear pain may also be the sign of a more serious health problem, such as meningitis or head trauma.

If the pain doesn’t get better, you have a fever, fluid is draining from your ear, or you have trouble hearing, you’ll want to see a doctor as soon as you can, CEENTA ENT doctor John Kilde, MD, said. These will help your doctor rule out any of the more serious complications possible and ensure they have every chance to restore your hearing to normal.

Listen to what your body tells you. Don’t ignore ear pain just because you think you’re too old for ear infections.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. To make an appointment with Dr. Kilde or any of CEENTA’s ENT doctors, call 704-295-3000. You can also request an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.

Should I go to the doctor for an ear infection? The answer to this common question is… maybe. Here are 5 tips to help you decide if you need medical attention

“Should I go to the doctor for an ear infection?”

In most cases, you probably won’t have to worry about it. A middle ear infection, also called otitis media, bring about pain, a clogged or full feeling in the ear, and difficulty hearing.

But all these things are normal.

You can probably wait out an ear infection on your own at home. If the pain goes away after a few days (and it usually will) then there’s no reason to worry.

However, there are several things that should make you visit the doctor for your ear infection. These symptoms or circumstances mean the ear infection is worse or riskier than others, and you should get medical help.

So let’s look at these five reasons you should head to the doctor for an ear infection.

1. The Pain Doesn’t Go Away

The pain from an ear infection will come on fast, but it doesn’t usually last longer than a day or two. But if your pain lingers without improving for several days, you should head over to the doctor.

Depending on the severity of your ear infection, they may or may not prescribe you any antibiotics. If they do, make sure you continue taking your daily amount even if your pain is gone.

2. You Experience Added Symptoms

If you experience any of these symptoms with your ear infection, you’ll want to visit a doctor as soon as you can.

  • It’s hard to move parts of your face like normal
  • Swelling under or behind the ear
  • Knots forming around the ear
  • A high fever (especially one over 100 degrees)
  • Changes in personality (a child might become fussy or lethargic)
  • Seizures
  • Discharge draining from the ear

These symptoms may mean your ear infection is much worse than normal cases. If your child has any of these symptoms, it’s even more important to get them to a doctor quickly.

3. Your Child Is Under Six Months Old

Ear infections are much more serious for young children, especially if they are under six months old. If you suspect your baby or toddler has an ear infection, you should take them to the doctor even if you don’t think the infection is that bad.

4. If You Have Frequent Ear Infections

Though each of these on their own may not be harmful, a doctor may be able to keep the ear infections from popping up so often.

If this ear infection is just one of the many you’ve been dealing with the past few months, you should get it checked out by a doctor.

5. Your Home Remedies Aren’t Working

Things like ibuprofen and hot compresses are usually enough to battle an ear infection. In some cases, even if you see a doctor, they will just tell you to keep treating it with home remedies.

If you have been trying this but the ear infection doesn’t get any better, head to the doctor.

Should I Go to the Doctor for an Ear Infection?

If you’re dealing with ear pain and still asking yourself, “Should I go to the doctor for an ear infection?” the right answer depends on your symptoms and situation. There are times, especially if your baby has an ear infection, you should go to the doctor right away. But in most cases, you can probably wait out an ear infection on your own.

Think you might have an ear infection and aren’t sure who to see, contact us and we’ll get you the help you need.

When to Go to the Emergency Room

When should I go to urgent care instead of the emergency room?

Urgent care centers can treat moderate, unforeseen medical problems that – while not emergencies – require care within about 24 hours. For example, this might include a cut that needs stitches, abdominal pain, fever, vomiting and diarrhea, a sore throat, severe cough, or worsening of an existing condition, such as mild to moderate asthma. Routine injuries such as sprained ankles, simple fractures or minor falls are also appropriate for urgent care.

Urgent care centers differ in the types of medical care they can provide. Before you head to your local urgent care or after-hours care center, call first to find out if they can help with your child’s particular medical issue.

When should I head straight for the emergency room?

A true emergency is when an illness or injury puts your child’s health or life in serious jeopardy and treatment can’t be delayed. Examples include extreme difficulty breathing, unconsciousness, significant bleeding or a severe head injury. Call 911 immediately or go to the closest emergency room with your child.

There are some gray areas. Asthma, for example, is often a chronic, recurring problem. Most asthma attacks can be treated in an urgent care center but a very severe exacerbation can be life threatening. Deciding whether to call 911, go to the ER or go to urgent care depends on your child’s appearance and your judgment – you know your child best.

Another gray area is possible poisoning. If your child has or may have ingested something that may be poisonous but is alert and stable, call the California Poison Control Center immediately at 800-222-1222. The Poison Control Center staff can tell you what to do initially and where to seek medical care if needed. Keep that important number posted in a visible location in your home. If you are at all concerned this may be serious, head to the closest emergency room.

When should I wait to see my child’s doctor?

If your child is not experiencing a life-threatening emergency or a health issue that requires urgent care (within about 24 hours), book an appointment so your child can be seen by his or her own doctor. The established relationship with your child’s doctor can make it easier for him or her to reach an accurate diagnosis and provide the best care for your child’s needs.

Particularly if you are concerned about a chronic health issue, such as longstanding abdominal pain or constipation, your child’s regular doctor is the best person to diagnose and treat your child.

Are there times I don’t need to take my child to the doctor?

For some health issues you don’t necessarily have to rush to the nearest urgent care center or your child’s doctor. Watchful care at home and supportive measures such as pain medication may be the best, and most comfortable, treatment choice for your child in instances including:

  • Fever: A fever is not necessarily a sign of concern if it is associated with routine cold symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat or cough. A temperature of or above 100.5 F is considered a fever. Call your doctor if your child’s temperate is approaching 105 F or if he or she has had a fever for longer than 72 hours.
  • Ear pain/ache: If your child is older than two and suffering from ear pain due to a possible ear infection, the pain can be treated with ibuprofen (for example, Advil or Motrin) and you can monitor your child’s condition at home. Many uncomplicated ear infections resolve by themselves without the need for antibiotics. If your child develops a fever, the pain is not controlled with ibuprofen, or he or she does not improve after 48 to 72 hours, check in with your child’s doctor.
  • Vomiting/diarrhea: If your child starts vomiting or having diarrhea, you don’t need to immediately rush to the doctor. Remember to give your child little sips of water or Pedialyte regularly to ward off dehydration. If the vomiting and diarrhea continues for several hours without gradually spacing out and your child’s urine output drops (using the bathroom less than three times a day), contact the doctor.

Learn more about pediatric urgent care at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Advice in this blog post is not intended to take the place of an exam or diagnosis by a physician.

Posted on Dec 30, 2013 in Sick Child

Drink Fluids: Having your child drink plenty of fluids will help open the Eustachian tube and allow fluid to drain. Take Acetaminophen: If your baby is older than 6 months, acetaminophen (Tylenol) may help relieve the pain and fever. Check with your doctor on proper dosage and follow the instructions on the bottle. Use Warm Oil Drops: This should not be performed if your child has drainage from the ear, an existing ear injury, or if you suspect a ruptured eardrum. If all is clear, try a few drops of room temperature olive oil or sesame oil in the infected ear. Olive oil soothes the tightly stretched tissues of ear drum which in turn helps in reducing the pain and contains antibacterial, antiviral, and antioxidant properties that fight off bacteria and reduce inflammation. Apply a Warm compress: Heat can bring quick pain relief to the ear. Wet a face towel with warm water, wring it out, and apply it to your infected ear. Keep it there until the towel becomes cool. Keep Your Baby’s Head Elevated: Keeping the head slightly or fully elevated allows the sinus to drain better. For babies, place a pillow or two under the crib mattress so that the baby sleeps with the head inclined. Try Homeopathic Ear drops: Homeopathic ear drops containing extracts of ingredients such as garlic, mullein, lavender, and calendula may also help relieve inflammation and pain.


Throat infections

If you find it painful to swallow and you have a sore throat, your earache could be a symptom of a throat infection, such as tonsillitis or quinsy (an abscess on one side of the back of your throat, which can sometimes make it very difficult to swallow even fluids).

Some types of tonsillitis will clear up after a few days without the need for antibiotics. But if you have quinsy, you will need to see your GP as soon as possible for treatment. You may have quinsy if your sore throat gets worse very quickly.

A problem with your jaw

Earache is occasionally caused by a problem with the joint of your jaw bone (where the jaw meets the skull). This is known as temporomandibular joint pain and can be caused by problems such as arthritis or teeth grinding.

Jaw pain can often be treated with painkillers, warm or cold compresses, and trying not to clench your jaw and grind your teeth.

A dental abscess

A dental abscess is a collection of pus that can form in your teeth or gums as a result of a bacterial infection. The main symptom is pain in your affected tooth, which can be intense and throbbing, although the pain can sometimes spread to your ear.

If you think you may have a dental abscess, make a dentist appointment as soon as possible. They may need to remove the abscess and drain the pus.

Read more about treating dental abscesses


Common causes of earache

  • An ear infection
  • A throat, nose or mouth infection
  • A build-up of ear wax
  • Changes in altitude or air pressure (eg, when an aeroplane lands)
  • An object, growth, or insect in the ear
  • A disease of the gland in front of the ear (eg, mumps).

See your doctor for earache

The ear canal is very delicate. It’s never a good idea to put anything in your ear that hasn’t been prescribed.

See your doctor if you or a family member – especially a child – has earache.

Your doctor may prescribe medicines to treat the cause of the earache. Sometimes a medical procedure or surgery may be needed.

Get back to your doctor quickly if you have:

  • new discharge from your ear canal
  • dizziness, nausea, vomiting or vertigo
  • a severe headache, stiff neck or really bad pain in the ear.

Call Healthline 0800 611 116 if you’re unsure what you should do.

Earache in children

Earaches are common in children.

If your child has an earache, they may:

  • tug or rub on the painful ear
  • have fever, dizziness, nausea or vomiting.

The usual cause of earache in children is middle ear infection (or otitis media). The infection often begins as a cold, sinus infection or throat infection. Bacteria enter the child’s nose or throat then travel up the tubes to their ear. The child begins to feel pain as their eardrum becomes swollen and red, and fluid builds up in the air space behind the eardrum.

Earache in adults

Adults also get ear infections, but not as commonly as children.

Middle ear infections in adults may cause earaches, hearing loss and a feeling of blockage in the ear.

Self care

As well as seeing your doctor, try the following:

  • A warm face cloth, wheat bag or covered hot water bottle held against your affected ear may help relieve the discomfort.
  • Take paracetamol or ibuprofen for pain or fever. (Follow the directions given by your doctor or pharmacist.)
  • Lie with the affected ear away from your pillow, propped up on 1-2 pillows
  • If your ear is discharging, gently wash the outer ear with soap and a face cloth. See your doctor.
  • Don’t use eardrops unless your doctor tells you to.

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