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Ear Infections - When To Call a Doctor

Call your doctor immediately if:

  • Your child has sudden hearing loss, severe pain, or dizziness.
  • Your child seems to be very sick with symptoms such as a high fever and stiff neck.
  • You notice redness, swelling, or pain behind or around your child's ear, especially if your child doesn't move the muscles on that side of his or her face.

Call your doctor if:

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  • You can't quiet your child who has a severe earache by using home treatment over several hours.
  • Your baby pulls or rubs his or her ear and appears to be in pain (crying, screaming).
  • Your child's ear pain increases even with treatment.
  • Your child has a fever of 101 °F (38.3 °C) or higher with other signs of ear infection.
  • You suspect that your child's eardrum has burst, or fluid that looks like pus or blood is draining from the ear.
  • Your child has an object stuck in his or her ear.
  • Your child with an ear infection continues to have symptoms (fever and pain) after 48 hours of treatment with an antibiotic.
  • Your child with an ear tube develops an earache or has drainage from his or her ear.

Watchful waiting

Watchful waiting is when you and your doctor watch symptoms to see if the health problem improves on its own. If it does, no treatment is needed. If the symptoms don't get better or if they get worse, then it's time to take the next treatment step.

Your doctor may recommend watchful waiting if your child is 2 years of age or older, has mild ear pain, and is otherwise healthy. Most ear infections get better without antibiotics. But if your child's pain doesn't get better with nonprescription children's pain reliever (such as acetaminophen) or the symptoms continue after 48 hours, call a doctor.

Who to see

Health professionals who can diagnose and treat ear infections include:

Children who often get ear infections may need to see one of these specialists:

  • Otolaryngologist
  • Pediatric otolaryngologist
  • Audiologist

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 30, 2014
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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