Almost all children have one or more middle ear infections (otitis media) before starting school. Middle ear infections are most common in the 6-24 month age group, especially in the cooler months.

 Middle ear infection is an infection of the small space just behind the eardrum. Ear infections often occur 3-4 days after a head cold and can be due to viruses or bacteria.

The most common symptoms are earache and fever. Other complaints are pulling at the ear, being irritable, hearing problems, vomiting, diarrhoea or loss of appetite. ­Occasionally the eardrum will rupture, ­producing a discharge from the ear.

Most cases resolve within a few days, but in some cases a sticky fluid remains in the ear behind the eardrum, which can reduce hearing (glue ear). Untreated, this can impair speech development and learning.

How to prevent ear infections

Some proven prevention strategies are:

  • Reduce exposure to cigarette smoke
  • Stop dummies after 11 months
  • Cut back attendance at day care or kindy
  • Breastfeed 6–12 months if possible
  • Flu and pneumococcal vaccination

Antibiotics not usually needed

Most ear infections get better on their own and antibiotics are not usually needed, except in severe cases or for babies under 6 months. Antibiotics may be prescribed if the condition does not improve in 24-48 hours.

Give your child paracetamol to relieve pain. Local anaesthetic drops can give relief and a warm pack to the outer ear can be soothing.

A check-up one month later is usually ­advised to detect a persisting glue ear.


  • Please note this information was correct at time of publication.
  • For up to date information, speak to your doctor.
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