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Most ear infections go away on their own within a few days. That's why it is recommended that doctors wait two to three days before prescribing antibiotics in certain cases of an acute ear infection.1
Depending on the child's condition, a doctor may recommend medical or surgical treatment. Ear infections are the most common cause of hearing loss in children, which can interfere with learning and speech development. This hearing loss can be permanent.
If the infection is from bacteria, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics (antibacterial drugs). If the infection is from a virus, antibiotics won’t help. Using antibiotics when they aren't necessary is harmful and creates bacteria that are difficult to treat.2
A doctor may prescribe pain medicine to help make the child more comfortable while the infection runs its course.
If the ear infection keeps coming back or lasts for a long time, a doctor may suggest surgery as the physical structure of a child's ears, nose and throat may be the problem.
Surgical treatments include the insertion of an ear ventilation tube (vent tube/grommet) in the eardrum to let fluid drain, or the removal of swollen or inflamed adenoids (adenoidectomy) where bacteria can breed and block natural drainage into the throat.
Diagnosis and management of acute otitis media. American Academy of Pediatrics Subcommittee on Management of Acute Otitis Media. Pediatrics 2004;113(5):1451-65.
Centers for Disease Control. Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work. Frequently Asked Questions. Available at www.cdc.gov. Accessed April 2, 2008.