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Reviewed 10/20/2022

Ear infections: True or false?

Ear infections are a common problem in children—and they can be really unpleasant for kids and parents. In addition to pain, ear infections may cause appetite loss, fever, sleep trouble, ear drainage and trouble hearing. Fortunately, the more you know about this troublesome ear issue, the better you can help your children.

True or false: Earaches are always caused by infections in the middle ear.

False. Many earaches are caused by infections in the middle ear. These infections are called otitis media and may be due to viruses, bacteria or allergies. But earaches also can be caused by infections in the outer ear (otitis externa). One of these is swimmer's ear, caused by bacteria or fungus growing in the ear canal.

True or false: Children are more prone to middle ear infections because their ear parts are smaller than adults'.

True. The passageway that connects the middle ear to the back of the nose is shorter and narrower—and more horizontal—in children. That makes it easier for the tube to become clogged.

True or false: Middle ear infections may clear up without antibiotic treatment within a week or two.

True. Antibiotics aren't needed to treat some middle ear infections, even if the infection is caused by bacteria. In many cases, treating the pain until the infection clears up is all that's needed. Infants under age 6 months, however, will always need antibiotics.

True or false: Ear infections are contagious.

False. You can't catch an ear infection from someone else. You can, however, catch someone else's cold, which can lead to a middle ear infection.

True or false: Cleaning your ears with a cotton swab can lessen the likelihood of an ear infection.

False. In fact, cleaning your ears with a cotton swab makes infection more likely. The wax in your ears is protective, and removing it can damage the lining of your ear. That can open the door for bacteria and viruses.

Most children will have at least one ear infection before they turn 3 years old. Take kids with an earache to see a doctor.

Find out what to look for.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; National Institutes of Health

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