What’s the Best Treatment for an Ear Infection?

Roni Shye
Roni Shye, PharmD BCGP BCACP, is a licensed pharmacist in the states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
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Ear infections are caused by either a bacteria or a virus. The infection leads to inflammation, usually in the middle part of the ear. Young children are often more prone to ear infections because their ears aren’t yet fully developed, though adults may also get ear infections.

Where do most ear infections occur?

Ear infections most often occur in the middle part of the ear.

What are signs and symptoms of an ear infection?

Ear infections in children as well as adults sometimes include symptoms such as:

How are ear infections treated?

Treatment with an oral pain reliever like Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) usually helps alleviate fever and pain within a few hours. Many doctors will actually recommend alternating Tylenol with Motrin for the best effect.

If the infection is bacterial (rather than viral) you may receive a prescription for an oral or topical antibiotic. Some antibiotics your doctor may prescribe for you or your child for an ear infection include:

What is the difference between an otic (for the ear) solution versus suspension?

The main difference is often pH. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14 where 0 is the most acidic or irritating, 7 is neutral neither acidic or basic, and 14 is the most basic or least irritating. Most topical otic (ear) preparations are acidic in nature, with a pH of 3 to 6.  Otic solutions can be irritating due their acidic pH of 3-4. Otic suspensions are typically less irritating because they have a more basic pH of 5, and may have a better side effect profile overall.

Why the difference in pH?
Suspensions are liquids in which the particles are “suspended” or scattered throughout the liquid and not quite dissolved.  Some medications are stable as a suspension but not a solution. Solutions may also contain alcohol, which is an anti-infective (it can help kill bacteria) but can be extremely irritating where they’re applied.
If my doctor prescribes an antibiotic ear drop when should I start feeling better?

Most people begin feeling relief within 24 hours. Symptoms should improve within 48 to 72 hours after starting the medication.

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