Do I need to follow-up with my doctor after being treated for an earache?
Most earaches resolve after 1 to 2 days of treatment; however, the ear infection may recur even with appropriate therapy. It is important not to stop the course of treatment even though symptoms are relieved.
- Most often, follow-up with a health-care professional is not required unless complications occur because of the ear infection. These may include recurrent pain, fever, loss of hearing, nausea, or vertigo.
- People with recurrent infections may require hearing tests.
- Ruptured eardrums may require referral to an ear, nose, and throat specialist in case they do not heal on their own, and require surgery to help repair the eardrum defect.
- People who are immunocompromised or who have diabetes should be seen in follow- up care for a recheck.
How can earaches and ear pain be prevented?
Swimmer's ear (otitis externa)
Many cases of otitis externa may be prevented by decreasing the opportunity for water or moisture to enter the ear canal by taking the following measures.
- Carefully dry the ears after swimming or bathing
- Shake out excess water in the ear.
- Hold a hair drier on a low heat setting at least 12 inches from the ear
- Wear earplugs while swimming.
Pain in the outer ear also can be caused by putting objects into the ear canal.
- Do not use objects to clean the ear (for example, paper clips, Q-tips, bobby pins, or fingernails) that may tear the skin. Most people have ears that are self-cleansing, and cleaning with a cotton-tipped swab is unnecessary and potentially harmful. People who have excess wax buildup should have it removed by a health-care professional who can remove the debris under direct vision using an otoscope or with ear irrigation.
- Occasionally, a foreign object such as an insect can cause inflammation and pain, and will need to be removed by a health-care professional.
Middle ear (otitis media)
- Minimize exposure of infants and children to others with colds or upper respiratory infections. This may require altering day care visit patterns.
- Avoid bottle feeding in the supine (lying) position.
- Babies who are breastfed for the first 6 months have a decreased risk of developing ear infections.
- Eliminate pacifier use after 6 months of age.
- Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Keep immunizations current, including those for influenza.
What's the outlook for a person with chronic earaches and ear pain?
- Often ear infections resolve without medical intervention.
- Individuals that require antibiotics also resolve the infection quickly, and pain relief should occur within a couple days.
- Associated symptoms, such as hearing loss or the feeling of ear fullness, may take longer to improve.
- Referral to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist) may be needed for people with continuing infection, or those who get frequent, recurring infections.
Kasper, D., et al. "Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine." McGraw-Hill Education/Medical. 19th edition. 2015.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/23/2016
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