Ear infections are very common. They are the most common reason children are brought to the doctor and estimates suggest that by their third birthday, 5 in 6 children will have suffered from an ear infection and they can happen to babies as well.
They’re not exclusive to children either. While they are more common among kids, adults can get them as well. If you’re having ear pain or your child is complaining of ear pain, you are probably wondering “do ear infections go away on their own?” or “do I really have to take my child to the doctor for another ear infection?”.
The answer to those questions depends. Keep reading to learn more about ear infections and whether they go away on their own or if you should seek medical treatment.
An ear infection, officially known as otitis media (OM) is the inflammation of the middle ear. It is usually caused by bacteria that materializes when fluid builds up behind the eardrum.
The three main types of ear infections are acute otitis media, otitis media with effusion, and chronic otitis media with effusion.
Acute otitis media(AOM) is the most common and this is what typically causes an earache. Sometimes this can be a dull pain and sometimes it can feel like stabbing ear pain.
In AOM, the middle ear becomes swollen and infected due to fluid behind the eardrum. AOM can also cause a fever. Sometimes this can be a dull pain and sometimes it can feel like stabbing ear pain.
Otitis media with Effusion (OME) can happen if an ear infection doesn’t totally clear up and fluid stays behind the eardrum. Kids who have these infections might not have any symptoms, but a doctor can see the fluid.
Chronic otitis media with effusion (COME) occurs when fluid stays in the middle ear for an extended period of time or continues to return, even if there isn’t an infection. This type of ear infection makes it difficult for kids to fight off new infections and can negatively impact their hearing.
In the past, if your child had an ear infection, doctors almost always prescribed an antibiotic. The problem with this, though, is that bacterial infections can become immune to antibiotics. They also can have some undesirable side effects, including gastrointestinal issues.
Not to mention, not all ear infections are bacterial. If they are viral, an antibiotic won’t do anything. In some cases, an ear infection will go away on its own. You can treat it with over-the-counter painkillers (be sure to consult with your doctor on dosage for babies and kids) or prescription ear drops.
Antibiotics are usually prescribed for severe infections, for babies younger than 6 months, and if your child is prone to illness. An ear infection left untreated could result in severe pain and hearing loss.
The answer to whether an ear infection will go away on its own is complicated. If you know the cause of the infection, it’s answered more easily, but will almost always require a trip to your pediatrician or urgent care.
Now that you know a little more about ear infections, you most likely understand why it’s so difficult to answer the question “do ear infections go away on their own?” There are many factors to consider in treating ear infections, so it’s best to seek a professional medical opinion.
If you can’t get in to see your regular doctor or are suffering after hours, consider an urgent care. Coastal Urgent Care has an online check-in feature and also gives you an estimated wait time once you arrive. They can also do a remote, telemedicine visit and you don’t even have to leave your house.