Middle Ear Infection (Adult)

You have an infection of the middle ear, the space behind the eardrum. This is also called acute otitis media (AOM). Sometimes it is caused by the common cold. This is because congestion can block the internal passage (eustachian tube) that drains fluid from the middle ear. When the middle ear fills with fluid, bacteria can grow there and cause an infection. Oral antibiotics are used to treat this illness, not ear drops. Symptoms usually start to improve within 1 to 2 days of treatment.

Image showing a cross-section of the ear, including the ear canal, eardrum, eustachian tube, and inflamed middle ear.

Home care

The following are general care guidelines:

  • Finish all of the antibiotic medicine given, even though you may feel better after the first few days.

  • You may use over-the-counter medicine, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to control pain and fever, unless something else was prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or have ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines. Do not give aspirin to anyone under 18 years of age who has a fever. It may cause severe illness or death.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised, in 2 weeks if all symptoms have not gotten better, or if hearing doesn't go back to normal within 1 month.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Ear pain gets worse or does not improve after 3 days of treatment

  • Unusual drowsiness or confusion

  • Neck pain, stiff neck, or headache

  • Fluid or blood draining from the ear canal

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or as advised 

  • Seizure

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