SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Middle ear infections are common in babies and young children.
- Glue ear can develop after a middle ear infection.
- By the time a child is 6 years old, middle ear infections are much less common.
About ear problems
Babies and young children are prone to (called otitis media). Pus or fluid builds up in the canal behind the ear drum, which causes and mild deafness. Sometimes, the ear drum bursts, releasing the fluid and making the child feel better. (Burst ear drums usually heal up by themselves.)
While most ear infections improve without any treatment, prefer to use antibiotics to clear up severe cases.
Symptoms of middle ear infections
Four out of 5 children will get a middle ear infection at least once. Some of the symptoms of middle ear infection include:
Sound doesn't travel well through fluid, so a child with an ear infection may have hearing difficulties. To them, normal speech will sound like a whisper. This only lasts as long as the infection, with no link to any permanent hearing loss.
Common after a cold
Babies and young children are more likely to develop middle ear infections because they are still building up their immunity.
Once a child reaches the age of around 6, infections are less common because the tube connecting the nose to the ear, called the Eustachian tube, is mature.
You can reduce the risk by:
- limiting day care – exposure to other children increases a baby's odds of catching a
- – offers better immunity than . Propping up a bottle with the child lying down should be avoided as milk may enter the Eustachian tube and increase the risk of ear infection
- not smoking – is a risk factor.
Treatment for ear infections
Mild infections clear up by themselves in a matter of hours.
Over-the-counter painkillers can help the child feel more comfortable. In more severe cases, antibiotics might be needed. Ear drops may also be recommended by your doctor.
'Glue ear', when the ear fills up with thick fluid, can develop after a middle ear infection.
If antibiotics can't clear the pus, an operation might be needed. A small hole is made and a tube called a grommet is inserted to help drain the fluid.
In some cases, an injection of a strong antibiotic can be used. Glue ear becomes less common as the child grows older.
Your doctor can use a syringe to gently fill the ear canal with warm water and float out the wax plug.
Where to get help
Need treatment today?
Need treatment today, but it’s not life-threatening and you can’t get a GP appointment, there are services available:
- – provide care for conditions that require treatment today but not an emergency response (extended hours)
- – offer healthcare advice and support (after-hours, 7 days)
- Tel. – for expert health information and advice (24 hours, 7 days)
- In an emergency, always call triple zero (000)
- Emergency department of your nearest hospital