Answers to common ear infection questions

Reviewed by Theresa H. Care Delivery Manager & Family Nurse Practitioner

Time saver 3 min read

It starts right after dinner. Your little one is all out of sorts — pulling on their ear and complaining it hurts. As their discomfort grows, so does your list of concerns. Is this an ear infection? Will it get worse? Are ear infections contagious? How can I help my child feel better?

Along with pain, ear infection symptoms may also include itching, drainage, ear popping and a general feeling of heaviness in the ear. Whether ear pain has struck you or your child, you want to know how to get the care you need to feel better. And that begins with learning more about ear infection causes, symptoms and treatment options.

Do colds cause ear infections?

An ear infection is the second most common childhood illness. Can you guess the most common? That’s right, the common cold. And ear infections often begin when a cold or some other kind of respiratory virus causes congestion and swelling of one or both eustachian tubes. When the eustachian tubes – which run from the middle ear to the throat – become blocked, fluid can build up in the ear and cause an ear infection.

Can allergies cause ear infections?

Kids and adults with seasonal or year-round allergies are more likely to develop ear infections. Why, you ask? Because allergies can also cause swelling and inflammation in the eustachian tubes. When this happens, the blockage allows fluid to build up which causes pain and pressure and – in some cases – an infection.

What is swimmer’s ear?

Have you ever been at a pool and seen someone tilting and shaking their head? They’re trying to release water from their ears to avoid swimmer’s ear — a common bacterial infection that can develop when water or moisture gets trapped in the ear canal. Swimmer’s ear is painful and treatment includes prescription ear drops to clear up the infection. Yet another reason to keep your ears clear and dry — especially after taking a dip.

Are kids more prone to ear infections?

Yes! Ear infections are more common in children than adults. Why? In part, because kids are exposed to a lot of germs at a time when their immune systems are still developing. But there are also physical differences between the ears of an adult and child. The shape and size of a child’s eustachian tubes and adenoids mean their ears are more susceptible to clogging, which can lead to an ear infection.

Treatment for child ear infections

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 80% of ear infections in children and adolescents resolve on their own within three days. That’s why the treatment of ear infections in kids centers on symptom and pain management and giving your child’s immune system the time it needs to fight off and clear up the infection. Thankfully, there are ways you can help your little one feel better while they heal.

Managing ear infection symptoms in kids

  • Ease pain — Administer children’s acetaminophen and ibuprofen (alternating between these meds can help provide maximum relief)
  • Calm discomfort — Apply a warm compress or a cold pack to the outside of the ear, especially at bedtime
  • Clear the head — Run a clean cool-mist humidifier in your child’s bedroom and elevate their head while sleeping

If symptoms last more than 72 hours, involve a high fever and drainage of pus or colored liquid from the ear, you could be dealing with a bacterial infection. In this case, your child will likely need an oral antibiotic or prescription ear drops to treat the infection. Additionally, seek in-person care if your child’s pain is severe and alternating between acetaminophen and ibuprofen doesn’t provide relief.

Treatment for adult ear infections

Adults can get ear infections too, but not nearly as often as kids. And, in some cases, antibiotics may be prescribed for adult ear infections. In general for adult ear pain, it’s best to be seen in-person so a provider can look inside the ear to determine the source of pain.

Online ear infection treatment that’s painless

The treatment recommended for an ear infection depends on a variety of factors —including a person’s age, the severity of an infection and whether an infection is viral or bacterial. At Virtuwell, our nurse practitioners diagnose the cause of your ear pain and develop a treatment plan that’s right for you. If antibiotics are needed, we’ll send the prescription to your local pharmacy. It’s that simple and pain free.

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