Middle ear infection (Doctors call it otitis media) is a very common problem which causes ear ache it is particularly common in children but can also present in adults.
Most otitis media is caused by viral infections and will usually settle by themselves over a 2-4 day period.
Pain and temperature can be relieved by using paracetamol or ibuprofen (people who have a diagnosis of asthma or think that they might be allergic to ibuprofen should either use paracetamol only or contact their health care professional for advice) Both these agents are appropriate for use in children and can be purchased at pharmacies and are available to buy from local shops and supermarkets. Children under the age of 16 should not use aspirin.
Applying a warm flannel to the painful ear can also be helpful in relieving pain.
Many middle ear infections will not be helped by taking antibiotics because they are caused by viruses which are not affected by antibiotics. In such cases antibiotics may cause more problems than they solve as they may cause diarrhoea, vomiting or rashes and can increase the risk of developing thrush. In addition inappropriate use of antibiotics can encourage the development of bacteria that are resistant to them making antibiotics less affective when they are needed.
When to seek help
Please organise to see a health care professional if the following apply as in these cases an antibiotic may be appropriate
- The person with ear ache has significant health issues that makes them more vulnerable to complications e.g. diabetes , cystic fibrosis, congenital heart disease
- Ear ache in a child less than 3 months old
- A child under the age of 2 with pain in both ears
- Symptoms showing no signs of improving over a four day period
- Severe symptoms that are not adequately helped by the measures outlined under self-care
- There is discharge from the ear (if the discharge is an orangey brown colour and the person has a high temperature the discharge may simply be melted ear wax)
Once you have been seen your doctor may choose to give the patient a prescription for antibiotics. Sometimes he or she might ask you to wait a little longer for the symptoms to resolve before taking the prescription to the pharmacy.