How Do You Clear Up an Ear Infection?

Reviewed on 5/20/2022
A young girl having her ear infection checked by a doctor with an otoscope
Ear infection treatments and home remedies include drinking fluids, rest, warm compresses, over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, anti-allergy medications, prescription medications, and oral antibiotics.

Ear infections are categorized based on where in the ear the infection occurs. 

Mild symptoms of ear infections that affect the outer or middle ear that are mild usually clear up within one to two weeks and may go away on their own.

  • Inner ear infections can last longer. Ear infections lasting 6 weeks or longer are considered chronic ear infections. 
  • See a doctor to determine whether an ear infection needs to be treated.

11 Ear Infection Treatments & Home Remedies

Medications such as antibiotics might not be needed for a middle ear infection and a doctor may recommend waiting to see if the infection clears up on its own. Home remedies to clear up symptoms of an ear infection include: 

  • Drinking fluids
  • Rest
  • Applying warm compresses to the ear to help relieve pain
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications 

Prescription medications used to treat ear infections include: 

  • For infections of the ear canal (otitis externa)
    • Hydrocortisone (Cortisporin, Otocort, Poly Otic)
    • Neomycin (Ak-Spore HC, Cortisporin, Neotricin HC, Ocutricin-HC), 
    • Polymyxin B
  • For infections of the middle ear (otitis media) and severe infections of the outer ear
    • Oral antibiotics

What Are Symptoms of an Ear Infection?

Symptoms of an ear infection include:

Symptoms of an ear infection in children may also include:

  • Pulling on the ear
  • Fussiness
  • Irritability
  • Decreased appetite or difficulty eating
  • Restless sleep
  • Decreased activity
  • Diarrhea

What Causes an Ear Infection?

Ear infections in the outer canal (otitis externa, or “swimmer’s ear”) are caused by:

  • Bacterial or fungal overgrowth in the ear canal that results from moisture that can enter the ear enter the ear from swimming, diving, or even bathing and showering that mixes with the earwax and debris in the ear canal
  • Overuse of cotton swabs in the ear canal 

Ear infections in the middle ear (otitis media) are caused by:

  • Bacteria
    • Streptococcus pneumoniae (also called pneumococcus)
    • Haemophilus influenzae
    • Moraxella catarrhalis
  • Viruses
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) 
  • Influenza virus (“the flu”)
  • Fluid from the sinuses can back up through the Eustachian tubes that connect the throat to the middle ear, such as when the sinuses or throat are inflamed from infection (from a cold, sinusitis, or an allergy attack) 
  • The backed-up fluid becomes trapped in the middle ear, which is a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses

How Is an Ear Infection Diagnosed?

  • Ear infections are diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination of the ear an otoscope, an instrument that is a light with a cone at the tip to visualize inside the ear canal, to check for inflammation in the ear canal. 
  • Tympanometry may also be performed to check for changes in pressure in the middle ear.
Reviewed on 5/20/2022
Image Source: iStock Images