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The symptoms of an ear infection usually start quickly and include:
Young children and babies with an ear infection may also:
Most ear infections clear up within 3 days, although sometimes symptoms can last up to a week.
Differences between inner ear infection and outer ear infection
Inner ear infection (otitis media)
Outer ear infection (otitis externa)
Usually affects children
Usually affects adults aged 45 to 75
Caused by viruses like colds and flu
Caused by something irritating the ear canal, such as eczema, water or wearing ear plugs
Affects the inner ear (the tube that runs behind the eardrum to the back of the nose – Eustachian tube)
Affects the ear canal (the tube between the outer ear and the eardrum)
To help relieve any pain and discomfort from an ear infection:
Speak to a pharmacist if you think you have an outer ear infection.
They can recommend acidic ear drops to help stop bacteria or fungus spreading.
Your doctor will often use a small light (an otoscope) to look in the ear.
Some otoscopes blow a small puff of air into the ear. This checks for blockages, which could be a sign of an infection.
Your doctor may prescribe medicine for your ear infection, depending on what's caused it.
Antibiotics aren't usually offered because inner ear infections often clear up on their own, and antibiotics make little difference to symptoms, including pain.
Antibiotics might be prescribed if:
They may also be prescribed if your child is less than 2 years old and has an infection in both ears.
Your doctor might prescribe:
If you have a spot or boil in your ear, your doctor may pierce it with a needle to drain the pus.
Ear drops may not work if they're not used correctly.
How to use ear drops
You can't always prevent ear infections, particularly inner ear infections caused by colds and flu.
To help avoid inner ear infections:
To help avoid outer ear infections:
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.