Can you treat ear infection with antibiotics?

Antibiotics for ear infection
Medically reviewed by Dr. Mandy Liedeman

Key Takeaways

  • There are various types of ear infections. Some kinds are acute otitis media(middle ear infection), otitis media with effusion and Swimmer’s ear(outer ear canal infection).
  • The “watch and wait” strategy can be employed in kids with mild symptoms. A waiting time of 2 to 3 days is given to see if the infection clears up before taking antibiotics for ear infections.
  • Ear infections can affect anyone, but they are more common in children. The reason is that their eustachian tubes are shorter and straighter than adults’, making it harder for fluid to drain out and making them more prone to developing infections.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers may aid in relieving discomfort from ear infections. However, to cure the infection, antibiotics for ear infections are required.
  • Amoxicillin is a first-line antibiotic for treating ear infections in adults and children.
  • Additionally, you should ensure that you complete the course of oral antibiotics for ear infections to prevent antibiotic resistance and complications.

Overview

Ear infections can be quite uncomfortable, often occurring alongside upper respiratory tract infections like the common cold. While more prevalent in children, they can impact both adults and kids.

However, ear infection medications, especially antibiotics, can treat this nagging pressure and feeling of fullness or ear discharge. In some cases, pain relievers are required, and these ear infections may resolve on their own. However, antibiotics are needed in other cases of ear infections.

Should I use antibiotics for an ear infection?

Yes, Antibiotics are considered one of the best options for treating ear infections. Your body’s immune system is capable of fighting most middle ear infections as well. However, ear infection meds are required for severe symptoms beyond 2–3 days or are severe.

There are usually two options for mild middle ear infections:

Watchful waiting: 

This is a 2-3 days to see if your child’s condition improves or if they require antibiotics. If your child’s symptoms don’t improve, the doctor may prescribe Amoxicillin for ear infections. 

Delayed prescribing: 

Your child’s physician may prescribe medicine for an ear infection but advises you to wait 2–3 days before getting an antibiotic prescription. Your child may recover independently and not need the antibiotics for earache.

Keep in mind that antibiotics can be taken without the diagnosis and prescription. It’s important to get consultation and prescription for the effective diagnosis per your needs and the well-suited prescription of antibiotics.  

Connect with our doctor now for the timely diagnosis of an ear infection!

What are the treatments for ear infections? 

Antibiotics and some other medications are prescribed for the treatment of ear infections. The following are all the options that can be considered to treat ear infections effectively. 

  1. Pain relievers

Pain relievers don’t treat the ear infection but can help ease the associated discomfort. Some options for Oral OTC pain relievers include acetaminophen (Tylenol) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), which can help relieve pain and fever that result from the infection. You can alternate between taking these both.

  1. Anesthetic drops

Apart from oral painkillers, anesthetic topical formulations are available. These are an option to relieve pain if the eardrum has no hole or hasn’t been ruptured.

  1. Antibiotics 

For Children: 

Many antibiotics help treat ear infections in kids. However, those with milder symptoms may not need antibiotics, and there is a possibility that the infection will resolve on its own. The following situations warrant a need for antibiotic prescription:

  • If your baby is younger than six months old.
  • If the child is younger than two years old, both ears are affected.
  • The child is at least six months old with moderate to severe symptoms that last more than two days.
  • The child is at least six months old with a fever or temperature of 102.2°F.
  • A reexamination after two days shows no signs of improvement.

Penicillin for ear infections, namely Amoxicillin, is a first-line antibiotic for treating middle ear infections in kids. These are available as tablets, capsules, and oral suspensions. Amoxicillin dosage for kids is calculated according to their body weight and taken twice daily for ten days. However, there is a noticeable improvement in symptoms within about three days. Augmentin (amoxicillin/clavulanate) is another option, especially for kids who have recently taken Amoxicillin. It’s also a perfect choice if the child has pink eye and an ear infection. 

Antibiotic ear-drops

Antibiotic ear drops such as Ciprodex and ofloxacin can treat ear infections in kids with ear tubes. Swimmer’s ear can also be treated with antibiotic ear drops. 

Antibiotics for adults  

Antibiotics for ear infections in adults are prescribed to prevent potential complications. The best medicines for ear infections are similar to those prescribed for kids. 

Amoxicillin is the first-line antibiotic for adults with otitis media. These antibiotics for ear infections are taken 2 to 3 times daily, and the ear infection treatment is continued for 5 to 10 days. However, there should be a noticeable improvement in symptoms within three days of taking the medication. Augmentin is commonly prescribed as well. Adults who develop a swimmer’s ear can get relief using antibiotic ear drops.

Dosage of Antibiotics 

  • Pediatric Dosage

The following are the dosages for antibiotics commonly prescribed for ear infections in kids:

AmoxicillinOral40 mg/kg per day in 2 or 3 doses3 g/day
Amoxicillin-clavulanateOralAmoxicillin 40 mg/kg per day, clavulanate 5.7 mg/kg per day in 2 doses3 g/day (amoxicillin component)
AzithromycinOral10 mg/kg once on day 1, followed by 5 mg/kg once per day on days 2 through 5500 mg/day on day 1; 250 mg/day on days 2 through 5
CefdinirOral14 mg/kg per day in one or two doses600 mg/day
  • Adult Dosage 

In the case of an adult ear infection, the following are the options for the best antibiotics to treat an ear infection:

Amoxicillin-clavulanateoral875/500mg orally twice daily.
Amoxicillinoral500 mg three times daily or 875 mg twice daily.
CefdinirOral200 mg twice daily.
DoxycyclineOral100 mg every 12 hours
AzithromycinOral500 mg on day 1, followed by 250 mg days 2 through 5

How is an acute middle ear infection treated?

Acute otitis media/middle ear infection and otitis externa, also called Swimmer’s ear, are two common ear infections. An ear infection can be accompanied by pain, fever, discharge from the ear(s), or difficulty hearing. In case of an ear infection symptoms, it is best to visit a doctor for a healthcare examination. An ear examination is carried out by using an otoscope to diagnose an ear infection.

Do you require antibiotics for an ear infection? Connect with our doctor!

What are the complications associated with ear infections?

Occasionally, an ear infection may lead to the following:

  • Rupture of the eardrum
  • Chronic otitis media
  • Brain abscess
  • Meningitis (infection of the brain membrane)
  • Mastoiditis (infection of the bones behind the ear)

What if my ear infection doesn’t go away after antibiotics?

You should visit an ENT specialist if you have a middle ear infection that shows no improvement. Unresolved infections can lead to complications and result in the spread of infection, permanent hearing loss, and paralysis of a facial nerve. 

In case of a relapse, consult and discuss it with your doctor in detail and get the diagnosis and prescription per your medical needs. 

When should I see a doctor?

Although viral infections usually resolve independently, bacterial ear infections can lead to complications. Hence, it is best to consult a doctor at Your Doctors Online for proper diagnosis and treatment. Reach out to a doctor in case of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Worsening symptoms
  • Fluid, pus, or discharge from the ear
  • Symptoms lasting more than 2 to 3 days
  • Hearing loss
  • Swelling, redness, or pain behind the ear
  • Eye redness or discharge

FAQs about Antibiotics for ear infection

Do ear infections go away without treatment?

Some ear infections can settle on their own. However, if symptoms worsen or persist, antibiotics are required.

What happens if my child keeps getting ear infections?

Repeated infections are known as chronic otitis media. These may result in permanent damage to the ear, including hearing loss. This can affect speech development as well.

How long does antibiotic treatment for ear infections last?

Depending on the infection, the treatment involves 7 to 10 days of antibiotics.

Can I stop taking antibiotics if my symptoms improve before finishing the prescribed course?

No, stopping the antibiotics can lead to bacterial resistance and promote the recurrence of infections.

Can I give my child the same antibiotics I have for my ear infection?

Don’t use the same antibiotics for your child. The prescription, dosage and antibiotic type differ from person to person.

Are there alternatives to antibiotics for treating ear infections?

Placing a damp washcloth over the affected ear and taking over-the-counter medication to relieve pain, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can help settle the discomfort but for curing the infection, antibiotics may be required.

Your Doctors Online uses high-quality and trustworthy sources to ensure content accuracy and reliability. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and medical associations to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information to the users.

  • Hannley, Maureen T., James C. Denneny III, and Susan Sedory Holzer. “Use of ototopical antibiotics in treating 3 common ear diseases.” Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery 122.6 (2000): 934-940.
  • Klein, Jerome O. “Strategies for decreasing multidrug antibiotic resistance: role of ototopical agents for treatment of middle ear infections.” American Journal of Managed Care 8.14; SUPP (2002): S345-S352.
  • Bittker, Seth Scott, and Kathleen Roberta Bell. “Acetaminophen, antibiotics, ear infection, breastfeeding, vitamin D drops, and autism: an epidemiological study.” Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment (2018): 1399-1414.
  • Macfadyen, Carolyn A., et al. “Systemic antibiotics versus topical treatments for chronically discharging ears with underlying eardrum perforations.” Cochrane database of systematic reviews 2010.1 (1996).

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