How Are Ear Infections Treated?
Most mild ear infections clear up without intervention. Some of the following methods are effective in relieving the symptoms of a mild ear infection:
- applying a warm cloth to the affected ear
- taking over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- using over-the-counter or prescription ear drops to relieve pain
- taking over-the-counter decongestants such as pseudoephedrine.
If your symptoms get worse or do not improve, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. He or she may prescribe antibiotics if your ear infection is chronic or does not appear to be improving. If a child under the age of 2 presents with ear infection symptoms, a doctor will likely give him or her antibiotics as well. It is important to finish your entire course of antibiotics if they are prescribed.
Surgery may be an option if your ear infection is not eliminated with the usual medical treatments or if you have many ear infections over a short period of time. Most often, tubes are placed in the ears to allow fluid to drain out. In cases that involve enlarged adenoids, surgical removal of the adenoids may be necessary.
What Can Be Expected in the Long Term?
Ear infections usually clear up without intervention, but they may recur. The following rare but serious complications may follow an ear infection:
- hearing loss
- speech or language delay in children
- mastoiditis (an infection of the mastoid bone in the skull)
- meningitis (a bacterial infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord)
- a ruptured ear drum
How Can Ear Infections Be Prevented?
The following practices have been proven to reduce the risk of ear infection:
- washing your hands often
- avoiding overly crowded areas
- forgoing pacifiers with infants and small children
- breast-feeding infants
- avoiding secondhand smoke
- keeping immunizations up-to-date