Will an Ear Infection Go Away on Its Own?

Parents of a child suffering from a middle ear infection raleigh nc are likely curious about treatment options or if the illness will go away on its own.  To better understand these concerns, and because middle ear infections are the most common cause of ear-related illness in children, this article will examine the characteristics, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of middle ear infections.

What are Middle Ear Infections?

The middle ear is behind the eardrum and connects to the back of the throat via the Eustachian tube.  Known as otitis media, middle ear infections tend to occur when allergy or cold congestion blocks the Eustachian tube.  As pressure and fluid builds up, ear infections occur when viruses or bacteria that have traveled up the Eustachian tube multiply.  The infections can cause a perforation (hole) in the eardrum or potentially spread to other areas, like the mastoid bone.

Otitis media can occur in adults but is more common in children.  In fact, otitis media is the most common illness that leads to children visiting the pediatrician’s office and the most common cause of childhood hearing loss.  Children that attend daycare are at an increased risk of developing otitis media du to the increased exposure to other potentially infected kids.


Decreased hearing and pain are the predominant symptoms of otitis media.  Because infection and inflammation affects the tiny bones (ossicles) that normally transfer sound from the eardrum to inner ear, otitis media changes hearing capabilities.  Additional symptoms may include general discomfort, fever, rubbing or pulling on the ear (in children), diarrhea and vomiting (in infants), dizziness, drainage from the ear, and loss of balance.


The doctor will likely ask about any ear pain, fever, or discharge from the ear during the consultation.  Using an otoscope, a lighted, cone-shaped instrument, the doctor will visually examine the ear canal and eardrum.  In addition to looking for redness and building of the eardrum, the doctor will test it for normal movement by blowing a light puff of air through the otoscope (eardrums will not move if pressured or fluid has built up behind them).  A hearing test (audiogram) may also be conducted to check for hearing problems.

Duration and Treatment

Luckily, the symptoms of a middle ear infection typically improve within 48-72 hours though the built up fluid in the middle ear could remain for up to 3 months.

Treatment options for otitis media depend on the severity of the symptoms and the underlying cause of infection.  Many ear infections will resolve on their own and the only needed treatment is medication for discomfort.  Roughly 80% of infections will clear up without antibiotics but children under 6 months or patients with severe symptoms generally will require antibiotics.  Because many infections clear up on their own, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics but instruct the patient to wait 2 to 3 days before filling it to see if there is improvement in symptoms.

Overall, the prognosis for most patients with otitis media is very good.  Typically, the infection and related symptoms resolve on their own but in rare cases, untreated infections can spread and lead to other complications.  Consulting a doctor or healthcare provider is recommended to diagnose and recommend suitable treatment options.

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