Coping With a Middle Ear Infection

Caregiving tips for your self and for others

If you or your child has an ear infection or is experiencing ear pain, coping with the pain and related symptoms can be a struggle at times. It can be difficult and frustrating to see your child in pain. It may help to know that even in the case of frequent recurring ear infections, most children grow out of this condition. This is true even in the majority of extreme cases that require the surgical placement of ventilation tubes.

Rest assured that there are several things that you can do to help get through the 24 hour period before antibiotics have a chance to take effect, to reduce the pain your child feels.

Child with ear infection receiving ear drops
Jelena Stanojkovic / Getty Images

Self-Care Tips

It can be hard for parents to leave their child when they aren't feeling well, but remember that unless you take care of yourself you will be unable to appropriately care for your child.

Take a Break

Consider allowing a trusted adult to watch your child on occasion. Caregiver burnout is a very real condition that can cause depression, physical and mental exhaustion, irritability, and can even make you more prone to becoming ill yourself. Despite your best efforts, experiencing these symptoms will have a negative effect on your sick child. Taking the time to workout or see a movie will prevent caregiver burnout and ultimately make you a better caregiver.

Don't Get Frustrated

If your child has been diagnosed with an ear infection, they have probably been fussy for several days due to the pain they are experiencing in their ears. You may feel frustrated as a parent that you did not know that they were having ear pain. This is completely normal to feel frustrated with yourself, but know that you are not alone.

The sometimes subtle pulling at the ear, or just plain fussiness, can be mistaken for any number of reasons. If needed, there are over the counter medications available to help treat the pain.

Caregiving Tips

Ear pain can occur for a number of reasons. Fortunately, you can take steps to make your child as comfortable as possible.

Physical Accommodations

For the typical bout of an ear infection, you will not have any physical accommodation to make other than resting up. However, if your child suffers from recurrent ear infections, you may need to monitor their speech and hearing.

Either your primary care provider or an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT) can evaluate your child for chronic otitis media, or fluid in the ears, and determine if you need continued follow-up hearing exams or therapy with a speech-language pathologist.

Practical Tips

Treating your child with acetaminophen or ibuprofen will be a life-saver at the start of the ear infection. It will also be helpful for you to apply a warm or cool cloth to the affected ear. During this time, you should also:

  • avoid getting water inside the ears
  • avoid cleaning ear wax out
  • avoid putting anything in your ears like a cotton swab

These relief tips will help you control ear pain until antibiotics have taken effect.

Distraction is a great technique so letting them watch their favorite movie or engage in another activity that can keep their mind off of their discomfort may be helpful.

Administer Medications Appropriately

In many cases, ​ear infections require the administration of antibiotics. These medications work best to decrease the length of time that your child is sick when they are given appropriately. This means that they are given as prescribed, on time, and for the entire length of time that your healthcare provider has instructed. Watch your child for negative side effects or signs of an allergic reaction such as hives or a rash and notify your healthcare provider if you are concerned.

It may also require some skill/instruction to give ear drops appropriately. Have your child lay on their side with the affected ear up and then gently pull the earlobe out and down. Keep your child in this position for several minutes to allow the ear drops to work.

See a Specialist

If your child doesn't seem to be getting better or seems to have an excessive number of ear infections it's a good idea to visit an ear, nose, throat doctor (​an otolaryngologist). 

Ear Infection Healthcare Provider Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next healthcare provider's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Child

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you exercise with an ear infection?

    It depends on your symptoms and the activity. An ear infection can affect your sense of balance, and having uneven balance makes many exercises dangerous. You also should avoid getting anything in your ear, such as water—which means swimming should be avoided. If you have an ear infection, it may be a good idea to talk to a healthcare provider first before working out.

  • How do I care for an ear infection?

    Caring for an ear infection involves avoidance. More specifically, it means that you should avoid allowing water in the infected ear, avoid cleaning out ear wax, and do not put cotton swabs in your ear.

    In most cases the ear infection will get better without treatment, but if it lasts longer than two to three days or more severe symptoms appear, then antibiotics like amoxicillin may be prescribed. Contact a healthcare provider if you have concerns about an ear infection.

  • Can you give someone an ear infection?

    An ear infection itself is not contagious. However, the virus or bacteria responsible for an ear infection, such as the cold virus, can be spread from one person to another.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ear infection

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