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Inflammation of the Middle Ear

Otitis media (Latin name)

By Bjarne Lühr Hansen PhD, MD and Philipp Skafte-Holm MD, Mentor Institute

In most cases of inflammation of the middle ear, you do not have to treat your child with penicillin. You can help your child by using a decongestant, raise the bedhead and administer painkillers. If your child continues to have pains in the ear, in spite of your treatment, you must call the doctor immediately.

Inflammation of the middle ear is a very common illness with children from 6 months to 3 years old. It especially occurs as a complication to the common cold. A connection between the nose and the middle ear functions as a valve so the pressure in the middle ear may be regulated. In the case of common cold, influenza or inflammation of the nose and throat, the mucous membranes swell up, closing the valve. Thereby developing inflammation of the middle ear.

In the lighter cases, there is only a hint of plugs and pains in the ear. In severe cases, the pains are significant and the child often cries inconsolably. In the most severe cases, the child has a high fever. The pains are often worst during the night when the child lies with the head low.

With some children the eardrum bursts and pus – possibly mixed with blood – leaks out of the auditory canal. When the pus leaves the auditory canal the child has healed itself. With almost all children, the hole in the eardrum closes in the course of a few days without the hearing is impaired.

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Contagion depends on the cause of the inflammation. If the inflammation is viral, the illness can infect through air via coughing and sneezing. If it is bacterial, the illness will be less infective.

Day care:
The child is kept at home until the temperature is normal and the child can participate in its usual activities without extra care. The child can attend day care, even though it leaks from the ear.


To soothe the pains in the ear the child can be administered painkillers, for example paracetamol. Paracetamol exists in the form of tablets, mixtures and suppositories and can be bought over the counter in a pharmacy. The dosage is described on the packaging. In most cases of inflammation of the middle ear, there is no need for treatment with penicillin because the illness passes by itself.

If the eardrum has burst and fluid leaks from the ear for more than three days, it can be helpful to administer eardrops after consulting a doctor.

What can you do?

You can soothe the child’s nuisances by making sure the child lies with the head elevated when it sleeps. You can raise the bedhead 15-20 cm with books or bricks.

Contact the doctor tomorrow

If the child still has pains in the ear and a fever after 3 to 4 days. If fluid leaks from the ear for more than 3 days. The doctor can prescribe a different painkiller.

Contact the doctor immediately

If the child is drowsy (lies completely still in bed and does not want to hear stories or play). If, the child still has heavy pains in the ear, in spite of your treatment.