Understanding Middle Ear Infections

Call the doctor’s office if you notice any signs of a middle ear infection.

Middle ear infections are most common in children under age 5. Crankiness, a slight fever, tugging or rubbing the ear may all be signs that your child has a middle ear infection. It is important to call the doctor if you notice these or any of the signs listed below.

Cross section of ear showing middle ear, eardrum, and outer ear.
Normal ear
What Are Middle Ear Infections?

Middle ear infections occur behind the eardrum (the thin sheet of tissue that passes sound waves between the outer and middle ear). These infections are usually due to bacteria or viruses, which are often related to a recent cold or allergy problem.

Signs of Middle Ear Problems

  • A temperature over 101.0°F and cold symptoms

  • Severe ear pain, or an ear that feels hot to the touch

  • Any kind of discharge from the ear

  • Persistent itching in the ear

  • Aching or ringing ears, dizziness, or nausea after an injury to the head

  • Ear pain that gets worse or doesn’t go away after a few days

When to Call Your Doctor

Call the doctor's office if your otherwise healthy child has any of the signs or symptoms described below:

  • In an infant under 3 months old, a rectal temperatuer of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher

  • In a child 3 to 36 months, a rectal temperature of 103°F (39.4°C) or higher

  • In a child of any age who has a temperature of 103°F (39.4°C) or higher

  • A fever that lasts more than 24-hours in a child under 2 years old, or for 3 days in a child 2 years or older

  • Your child has had a seizure caused by the fever

  • Rapid breathing or shortness of breath

  • A stiff neck or headache

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Persistent brown, green, or bloody mucus

  • Signs of dehydration, which include severe thirst, dark yellow uring, infrequent urination, dull or sunken eyes, dry skin, and dry or cracked lips

  • Your child still doesn't look right to you, even after taking a non-aspirin pain reliever

Online Medical Reviewer: Janas, Janice D, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Landers, Stephen A, MD
Last Review Date: 1/18/2013
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