Ear infections are no fun for anyone. If you or your child gets one, you just want the symptoms to be gone as soon as possible.
The best treatments vary depending on your type of ear infection – it can be in the inner, middle or outer ear. Ear infections can have different causes, too, and can be brought about by bacteria or by viruses.
So, what’s the best way to quickly clear up an ear infection? Do you need to see the doctor, or can you treat an ear infection at home? Read on for the answers.
What are home remedies for ear infections?
Most ear infections clear up without medical care or special medicines. So if you or your child gets an ear infection, the first step is usually to treat ear infection symptoms at home. Here are options to try:
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain and fever reliever
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) is often enough to reduce the pain and fever that can come with ear infections. Of course, all medicines aren’t safe for all ages, so make sure you give your child the correct amount for their age.
Kids over 3 months old can take acetaminophen – but if your baby has a fever, it’s a good idea to call the nurseline (612-339-3663 or 800-551-0859) for guidance on the right dose. Contact your doctor right away or go to urgent care if your little one is less than 3 months old and has a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
A warm compress for an ear infection can help reduce ear pain. Just a soak a washcloth in warm water, wring out the excess water and then hold it against the infected ear for up to 20 minutes. If the compress seems to help with the pain, reapply the compress throughout the day.
Sleeping and resting strengthens the immune system and helps your body fight off infections and other sickness. But it’s best not to sleep on your infected ear – and not just because it’s uncomfortable.
If you’re an adult with a middle ear infection, elevating the affected ear makes it easier for the infection to drain out. So, sleep on your other side or tuck a few extra pillows under your head if sleeping on your back.
If you have an outer ear infection, keep blankets and hair away from your ear. The airflow on your ear can help it stay dry, allowing it to heal faster.
Saltwater is known as an effective way to reduce inflammation. And saltwater could help an ear infection as well – just don’t put the salt water directly in your ear. Instead, add one teaspoon salt to one cup of warm water and gargle it for a couple minutes. If your ear infection is related to a swollen throat, this can help reduce your symptoms.
Drying eardrops for an ear infection
If you or your child has an outer ear infection, commonly known as swimmer’s ear, using fluid-drying eardrops might help. You can buy OTC eardrops for swimmer’s ear at retail stores and online.
Using fluid-drying eardrops is not appropriate for people who have ear tubes. They also shouldn’t be used if there’s discharge coming from your ear or if your eardrum is ruptured. So before using eardrops for you or your child’s ear infection, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor to make sure they’re safe to use.
There’s a chance that putting hydrogen peroxide in your ears could help with an ear infection. To try it, place a few drops of hydrogen peroxide in your affected ear, let it sit for a few minutes, then tilt your head over a sink to let the fluid drain out before rinsing off your ear.
Is it really safe to put hydrogen peroxide in your ear? Yes, but it’s important not to use too much hydrogen peroxide or repeat the procedure too frequently, as it can cause irritation, pain and inflammation.
Home remedies used to treat related illnesses
Decongestants, antihistamines and cold medicines won’t cure an ear infection, but it’s possible that they could help with your symptoms. For example, if you treat allergy symptoms and get rid of the sniffles from a cold or flu, you may be able to reduce the swelling that’s blocking things up.
Avoid using Q-tips for ear infection cleaning
If your ears are feeling plugged up, you may think about using a Q-tip to clean them out. Is this a good idea? In most cases, no.
You should never put a Q-tip in your ear canal – and this is especially true if there’s an infection inside the ear. While it seems like it might be good way to clean things out, using a Q-tip in your ear can actually push infected fluid farther into your ear, making your infection worse.
It’s okay to use a Q-tip to carefully clean the outer ear, the part that you can see. But chances are it won’t help much with your ear infection symptoms.
When should I talk to a doctor about an ear infection?
If the ear infection symptoms don’t improve within a few days, make a primary care appointment. Other signs that it’s time to see a doctor include:
- Ear pain that lasts more than two days
- Fluid draining from the ear
- Changes or loss of hearing
- Fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit
- Frequent or recurrent ear infections
Should I use antibiotics for an ear infection?
Antibiotics are a medicine prescribed by your doctor. If you’re dealing with an ear infection caused by bacteria, you’ll likely need antibiotics. They are the best way of quickly getting rid of a bacterial infection and preventing it from spreading to other parts of the body.
The catch is that antibiotics don’t work against viruses – if you use antibiotics on a viral ear infection, it can actually make the infection worse. Overuse of antibiotics can lead to a condition called antibiotic resistance, which means that the medicine becomes less effective at fighting off bacteria.
That’s why doctors are careful about using antibiotics wisely and may not immediately prescribe them for ear infections.
When your doctor may prescribe antibiotics
While every situation is unique, there are several factors that doctors consider when recommending antibiotics:
- What they see– If the infection is in the outer ear, it may be clear it’s caused by bacteria. In this case your doctor may recommend antibiotic eardrops to help clean out the ear infection. If your doctor can’t see the ear infection because it’s on the inside of the ear, they may not prescribe antibiotics right away.
- How long it’s been– Viral infections typically go away on their own in 1-2 weeks. If the ear infection has been around for less than a week, your doctor may recommend waiting to see if the ear infection goes away on its own, a sign that it’s viral. If it’s been more than a week, your doctor may recommend starting antibiotics.
- Your child’s age– The doctor may be more likely to prescribe antibiotics for children under 2 years old, especially if they have infections in both ears, have pain that’s moderate to severe, or have a fever.
- Symptoms– If you or your child have certain symptoms, such as an extremely high fever or severe dehydration, your doctor may recommend starting antibiotics sooner.
- Medical conditions– Your doctor may recommend starting antibiotics right away if there are certain medical conditions, such as cleft palate or repeat infections, that could lead to problems with an ear infection. In most cases, antibiotics will also be recommended when someone with a cochlear implant gets an ear infection.
What if my ear infection doesn’t go away after antibiotics?
If you or your child finish your course of antibiotics, but it seems like the ear infection hasn’t gone away, make an appointment with your doctor. They’ll help figure out what’s going on and what to do next. There’s a chance that your doctor may prescribe a different type of antibiotic to see if it works better.
It’s also possible that the infection is gone but the symptoms aren’t. This can happen if there’s still fluid trapped in the ear, causing a plugged-up feeling, pain or hearing loss. Most of the time the fluid in ears drains within a couple of weeks, but sometimes it sticks around longer.
What happens if an ear infection is left untreated?
Fluid buildup in the ear can be damaging – even if there’s no infection – and may lead to a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss. So, it’s important to see the doctor if symptoms remain after finishing the antibiotics. They’ll likely want to take a look in your ear and learn more about your symptoms.
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may recommend you see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor. The ENT doctor may recommend surgery to place small metal or plastic tubes in the ear canal to make it easier for the fluid to drain out. Your doctor may also recommend ear tube surgery for your child if they have recurrent ear infections.
How to prevent ear infections
Ear infections generally come after another illness caused by viruses or bacteria. Anything you can do to keep from getting sick or boost your immune system, should also help reduce your chance of ear infections. Here are ways to keep yourself and your family healthy:
- Wash hands frequently. This helps to stop the spread of germs that make you sick.
- Get vaccinated. Make sure both you and your child get a flu shot and other recommended vaccinations by age. Vaccinations are one of the most effective ways of preventing viral and bacterial infections, which can turn into ear infections.
- Stay away from cigarette smoke. Secondhand smoke makes it more likely that you, or your child, will get an ear infection. So, don’t smoke around your child. Better yet, talk to your doctor about quitting – giving up smoking is one of the best things you can do for your own health and the health of your family.
- When possible, limit the number of kids your child is around. If your child is around fewer kids, they’ll be around less germs that can get them sick.
- Breastfeed your baby. Breast milk contains antibodies that boost baby’s immune system, reducing the risk of ear infections. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding for at least 12 months and that, for the first six months, baby eats nothing else.
- Hold your baby when they’re eating. If baby is bottle feeding, hold them in one arm and the bottle in the other hand. If baby eats lying down or falls asleep sucking on a bottle, fluids can collect in their ear, increasing the chance of ear infections.
- Limit pacifier use. Pacifiers are recommended to help your baby sleep safely and can reduce the chance of sudden infant death syndrome. However, the AAP recommends stopping use of the pacifier at around 6 months – babies who continue using pacifiers after 12 months are more likely to have ear infections.
- Talk to your doctor. If you or your child have frequent ear infections – three in 6 months or four within a year – ask your doctor if ear tubes might be a good option.
While most cases of ear infections clear up on their own, there are a handful of at-home remedies that can help, like applying a hot or cold compress, using over-the-counter pain relievers or adjusting your sleep position.How do you get rid of an ear infection without seeing a doctor? ›
Below are some ways to feel better, even if antibiotics are needed for an ear infection: Rest. Extra water or other fluids. Over-the-Counter Medicines to relieve pain or fever.What is the best natural antibiotic for an ear infection? ›
Garlic. Garlic has both antibiotic and pain-relieving properties. Soak crushed garlic for several minutes in warm olive or sesame oil. Strain the garlic out and apply the oil into the ear canal.How do you draw out an ear infection? ›
Remedies include: Salt: Heat salt in a pan, wrap it in a cloth and place the cloth against the affected ear for up to ten minutes. This should help draw out fluid from the ear and provide some relief. Garlic or onions: The antimicrobial properties of garlic and onions give them natural pain relieving qualities.What gets rid of ear infections quickly? ›
Antibiotics are a medicine prescribed by your doctor. If you're dealing with an ear infection caused by bacteria, you'll likely need antibiotics. They are the best way of quickly getting rid of a bacterial infection and preventing it from spreading to other parts of the body.Can you get rid of an ear infection without antibiotics? ›
Most ear infections cure themselves without the help of antibiotics. "An ear infection is a bacterial or viral infection that affects the ear. It becomes painful when buildups of fluid and inflammation occur in the air-filled space behind the eardrum," says Leanna Munoz, Mayo Clinic Health System nurse practitioner.How do I know if my ear infection is bacterial or viral? ›
- Symptoms persist longer than the expected 10-14 days a virus tends to last.
- Fever is higher than one might typically expect from a virus.
- Fever gets worse a few days into the illness rather than improving.
Sleep position has a huge impact on pain caused by an ear infection. Rest with your head on multiple pillows, so the ear with the infection is higher than the rest of your body. If your left ear has an infection, sleep on your right side and vice versa. Less pressure is the best way to reduce pain and get sleep.How should I sleep to drain my ears? ›
Elevation (aka sleeping upright)
Sleeping upright is a great help when it comes to resting with ear infection symptoms. Sleeping sitting up can allow fluid in your ear to drain easier, as well as easing pressure and pain in your middle ear – the likely source of the infection itself.
How Long Do Ear Infections Last? Middle ear infections often go away on their own within 2 or 3 days, even without any specific treatment. Often, there's fluid in the middle ear even after an infection clears up. If it's there for longer than than 3 months, more treatment might be needed.
If you are prone to recurrent outer ear infections ('otitis externa'), using hydrogen peroxide alone when you feel the first symptoms of an infection can sometimes avoid the need for antibiotic drops. Use it three times a day for a week, and see your doctor if symptoms of infection get worse.How do you drain your inner ear fluid at home? ›
Tilt your head sideways, and rest your ear onto your cupped palm, creating a tight seal. Gently push your hand back and forth toward your ear in a rapid motion, flattening it as you push and cupping it as you pull away. Tilt your head down to allow the water to drain.Can hydrogen peroxide make an ear infection worse? ›
Outer Ear Infections
When the ear starts to hurt or feels blocked, typically you may try to clean the ear with cotton swabs (Q-tips) or irrigate it with solutions like hydrogen peroxide. Unfortunately, this tends to make the issue worse. As the swelling in the ear canal worsens, the pain may become severe.
Many ear infections will resolve on their own and the only needed treatment is medication for discomfort. Roughly 80% of infections will clear up without antibiotics but children under 6 months or patients with severe symptoms generally will require antibiotics.What are the 3 types of ear infection? ›
Types of ear infection include: otitis externa. otitis media – acute or chronic. serous otitis media.Can you tell an ear infection by looking? ›
The otoscope will allow the provider to look at the surface of the eardrum. A healthy eardrum looks pinkish-gray. An infection of the middle ear, or an ear with otitis media, looks red, bulging, and there may be clear, yellow, or even greenish hued drainage.Can an ear infection spread to the brain? ›
Rarely, serious middle ear infections spread to other tissues in the skull, including the brain or the membranes surrounding the brain (meningitis).Why is ear infection worse at night? ›
WHY IT HAPPENS: Pain is worse at night because of low cortisol levels. Laying down also backs up drainage into the middle ear, causing pressure on the eardrum and pain. With swimmer's ear, even the ear touching a pillow can cause excrutiating discomfort, and pain is always worse without daytime distractions.Should I leave my ear infection alone? ›
Ear infections need to be treated. If left untreated, they can lead to unnecessary pain and permanent hearing loss for your child. Ear infections usually go away in a few days. Your doctor will likely treat your child's pain and fever with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers or eardrops.What should you eat when you have an ear infection? ›
In addition, vitamin D and probiotics (live bacteria that offer health benefits) both increase immunity. Taking a probiotic supplement or eating foods high in probiotics, like yogurt, may help prevent future ear infections. Taking a vitamin D supplement may also help.
- A cool or warm compress. Soak a washcloth in either cool or warm water, wring it out, and then put it over the ear that's bothering you. ...
- A heating pad: Lay your painful ear on a warm, not hot, heating pad.
- Over-the-counter ear drops with pain relievers.
Lie on the ground with your affected ear parallel to the floor, tilt your head and jiggle your earlobe. Gravity will take care of the rest! You can use a cotton swab to remove any water remaining in your ears.Why are ear infections so painful? ›
An ear infection happens when fluid in the interior space behind the eardrum becomes infected, usually with bacteria. The tube leading into the body becomes blocked, and fluid builds up behind the eardrum. The increased pressure pushes the eardrum outward, causing pain and fever.What happens if you let ear infection go? ›
An untreated infection can spread to other nearby tissue in and around the ear, and in rare cases even into the skull, resulting in meningitis. Infections will more commonly spread to the mastoid, just behind the ear, which can damage the bone and form pus-filled cysts.How long does ear infection last in adults? ›
Most ear infections clear up within 3 days, although sometimes symptoms can last up to a week. If you, or your child, have a high temperature or you do not feel well enough to do your normal activities, try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people until you feel better.Can you put peroxide directly in your ear? ›
"We typically recommend that people dilute it," said Dr. Shapiro. "Regular strength hydrogen peroxide can be irritating to your ear canal skin and eardrum." And, if you have any issues like an infection, pain, or a perforated eardrum, you shouldn't do this, Dr. McNeely said—it could make things worse.What does it mean if hydrogen peroxide bubbles in your ear? ›
Over-the-counter (OTC) eardrops may contain various types of hydrogen peroxide and other substances that work together to soften earwax. Carbamide peroxide, a common form of hydrogen peroxide ear drops, releases oxygen into the earwax, causing it to bubble and soften.Can you let peroxide sit in your ear? ›
Enter hydrogen peroxide. You can place a few drops in your ear canal and wait while it softens and breaks down the wax, while your head is resting on its side (like on the sofa's armrest). Then you can gently flush your ear canal with warm water to rinse the softened wax out.What is the fastest way to drain fluid from the middle ear? ›
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to drain fluid from your middle ear at home. Such home remedies include applying a warm compress, inhaling steam, popping your ears, and a technique known as the Valsalva maneuver. Over-the-counter medicines may also help.How do you drain sinus fluid from your ear? ›
The Valsalva maneuver is better known as “popping your ears” and helps open the eustachian tubes. An easy way to do this is to plug your nose and then blow out while keeping your lips closed (it will puff up your cheeks). It's important not to blow your nose too hard, which could cause problems with your eardrum.
Eustachian tube massage
Using firm, steady pressure, slide your finger down until you feel a groove between your ear lobe and jaw. Trace that groove all the way down your neck to your collarbone using the same firm pressure. Repeat this process three times on each side, three times a day.
For adults, taking pain relief medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen before bedtime may be a big help in relieving ear infection symptoms and granting a good night's sleep.How long does an ear infection last without antibiotics? ›
How Long Do Ear Infections Last? Middle ear infections often go away on their own within 2 or 3 days, even without any specific treatment. Often, there's fluid in the middle ear even after an infection clears up. If it's there for longer than than 3 months, more treatment might be needed.What causes ear infections in adults? ›
An ear infection is caused by a bacterium or virus in the middle ear. This infection often results from another illness — cold, flu or allergy — that causes congestion and swelling of the nasal passages, throat and eustachian tubes.Is it better to sleep on or off an infected ear? ›
If you are experiencing an ear pain, you should not sleep on the side where you have the pain. Instead, try to sleep with the affected ear raised or elevated – these two positions should reduce the pain and not aggravate your ear infection any further.Why do ear infections hurt more at night? ›
WHY IT HAPPENS: Pain is worse at night because of low cortisol levels. Laying down also backs up drainage into the middle ear, causing pressure on the eardrum and pain. With swimmer's ear, even the ear touching a pillow can cause excrutiating discomfort, and pain is always worse without daytime distractions.