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Ear Infections - Medications

Antibiotics can treat ear infections caused by bacteria. But most children with ear infections get better without them. If the care you give at home relieves pain and the symptoms are getting better after a few days, you may not need antibiotics.

Your doctor will likely give antibiotics if:1

  • Your child has an ear infection and appears very ill.
  • Your child is younger than 2 and has an infection in both ears or has more than mild pain or fever.
  • Your child is at risk for complications from the infection.

For children ages 2 and older, many doctors wait for a few days to see if the ear infection will get better on its own. When doctors do prescribe antibiotics, they most often use amoxicillin, because it works well and costs less than other brands.

When your child takes antibiotics for an ear infection, it is very important to take all of the medicine as directed, even if your child feels better. Do not use leftover antibiotics to treat another illness. Misuse of antibiotics can lead to drug-resistant bacteria.

Deciding about antibiotics

Some doctors prefer to treat all ear infections with antibiotics, because it's hard to tell which ear infections will clear up on their own. Some things to consider before your child takes antibiotics include:

  • Risk for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The greatest problem with using antibiotics to treat ear infections is the possibility of creating bacteria that can't be killed by the usual antibiotics (antibiotic-resistant bacteria). Use antibiotics only when they're needed.
  • Side effects of antibiotics. Mild side effects, such as diarrhea and rash, from taking antibiotics are common. Severe side effects are rare.
  • Cost. Most antibiotics are expensive. You may want to weigh the cost against the fact that most ear infections clear up without treatment.

Antibiotics have only minimal benefits in reducing pain and fever.

If your child still has symptoms (fever and earache) longer than 48 hours after starting an antibiotic, a different antibiotic may work better. Call your doctor if your child isn't feeling better after 2 days of antibiotic treatment.

dplink.gif Ear Infection: Should I Give My Child Antibiotics?

Other medicines

Other medicines that can treat symptoms of ear infection include:

  • Acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (for example, Advil, Aleve, and Motrin), for pain and fever. Follow all instructions on the label. If you give medicine to your baby, follow your doctor's advice about what amount to give. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because of its link to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Pain medicines such as codeine and some eardrops, which help with severe earache. But do not use eardrops if the eardrum is ruptured. For more information, see the safest way to insert eardrops camera.gif.
  • Sometimes corticosteroids are given with antibiotics to get rid of fluid behind the eardrum. Steroid medicines are not a good choice for treating ear infections. Do not use them if a child has been around someone with chickenpox within the last 3 weeks.

Most studies find that decongestants, antihistamines, and other nonprescription cold remedies usually don't help prevent or treat ear infections or fluid behind the eardrum. Antihistamines that may make your child sleepy can thicken fluids and may actually make your child feel worse. Check with the doctor before giving these medicines to your child. Experts say not to give decongestants to children younger than 2 years.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 10, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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