Ear infections are very common, particularly in children. You do not always need to see a GP for an ear infection as they often get better on their own within 3 days.
The symptoms of an ear infection usually start quickly and include:
Young children and babies with an ear infection may also:
Most ear infections clear up within 3 days, although sometimes symptoms can last up to a week.
To help relieve any pain and discomfort from an ear infection:
use painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (children under 16 should not take aspirin)
place a warm or cold flannel on the ear
remove any discharge by wiping the ear with cotton wool
do not put anything inside your ear to remove earwax, such as cotton buds or your finger
do not let water or shampoo get in your ear
do not use decongestants or antihistamines – there's no evidence they help with ear infections
Speak to a pharmacist if you think you have an outer ear infection.
They can recommend acidic eardrops to help stop bacteria or fungus spreading.
The GP will often use a small light (an otoscope) to look in the ear.
Some otoscopes blow a small puff of air into the ear. This checks for blockages, which could be a sign of an infection.
The GP may prescribe medicine for your ear infection, depending on what's caused it.
Antibiotics are not usually offered because infections inside the ear often clear up on their own and antibiotics make little difference to symptoms, including pain.
Antibiotics might be prescribed if:
They may also be prescribed if your child is less than 2 years old and has an infection in both ears.
The GP might prescribe:
If you have a spot or boil in your ear, the GP may pierce it with a needle to drain the pus.
Eardrops may not work if they're not used correctly.
You cannot always prevent ear infections, particularly inner ear infections caused by colds and flu.
To help avoid inner ear infections:
To help avoid outer ear infections: