Ear Infections: Facts for Parents About Otitis Media (page 2)

— National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Updated on Feb 17, 2011

How do I know if my child has otitis media?

It is not always easy to know if your child has an ear infection. Sometimes you have to watch carefully. Your child may get an ear infection before he or she has learned how to talk. If your child is not old enough to say, "My ear hurts," you need to look for other signals that there is a problem.

Here are a few signs your child might show you if he or she has otitis media:

  • Does she tug or pull at her ears?
  • Does he cry more than usual?
  • Do you see fluid draining out of her ears?
  • Does he have trouble sleeping?
  • Can she keep her balance?
  • Does he have trouble hearing?
  • Does she seem not to respond to quiet sounds?

A child with an ear infection may show you any of these signs. If you see any of them, call a doctor. 

What will a doctor do?

Your doctor will examine your child's ear. The doctor can tell you for sure if your child has an ear infection. The doctor may also give your child medicine. Medicines called antibiotics are sometimes given for ear infections. It is important to know how they work. Antibiotics only work against organisms called bacteria, which can cause illness. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, such as those associated with a cold. In order to be effective, antibiotics must be taken until they are finished. A few days after the medicine starts working, your child may stop pulling on his or her ear and appear to be feeling better. This does not mean the infection is gone. The medicine must still be taken. If not, the bacteria can come back. You need to follow the doctor's directions exactly.

Your doctor may also give your child pain relievers, such as acetaminophen. Medicines such as antihistamines and decongestants do not help in the prevention or treatment of otitis media.

How can I be sure I am giving the medicine correctly?

If your doctor gives you a prescription for medicine for your child, make sure you understand the directions completely before you leave his or her office. Here are a few suggestions about giving medicine to your child.

1. Read. Make sure the pharmacy has given you printed information about the medicine and clear instructions about how to give it to your child. Read the information that comes with the medicine. If you have any problems understanding the information, ask the pharmacist, your doctor, or a nurse. You should know the answers to the following questions:

  • Does the medicine need to be refrigerated?
  • How many times a day will I be giving my child this medicine?
  • How many days will my child take this medicine?
  • Should it be given with food or without food?

2. Plan. Sometimes it is hard to remember when you have given your child a dose of medicine. Before you give the first dose, make a written plan or chart to cover all of the days of the medication. Some children may require 10 to 14 days of treatment.

Your chart might look like this if your child's prescription is for 3 times a day with food:

Maria's Medicine Chart
Sample Only
sample medicine chart

Put your chart on the refrigerator so you can check off the doses at every meal. Be sure to measure carefully. Use a measuring spoon or special medicine-measuring cup if one comes with the medicine. Do not use spoons that come with tableware sets because they are not always a standard size.

3. Follow Through. Be sure to give all of the medicine to your child. Make sure it is given at the right times. If your doctor asks you to bring your child back for a "recheck", do it on schedule. Your doctor wants to know if the ears are clear of fluid and if the infection has stopped. Write down and ask the doctor any questions you have before you leave his or her office.

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