What are the symptoms of a middle ear infection?

Children and adults with a middle ear infection will usually have a fever (a temperature of 38.5°C or higher) and they may feel pain in their ear. The pain may come on suddenly and can cause distress in children.

These symptoms usually follow a respiratory tract infection, such as a cold or sore throat (pharyngitis).

Younger children may also:

  • have a cough and/or a runny nose
  • pull, or rub their ear if they feel pain
  • be irritable
  • lose their appetite
  • show signs of not being able to hear (e.g. not responding to quiet sounds, or being inattentive)
  • lose their balance.

Sometimes the eardrum can burst as a result of the ear infection. Once this happens the pain will stop immediately, and a white or yellow fluid might be released from the ear. The eardrum will usually heal quickly, with no long-term effects on hearing.

Fluid can sometimes be produced by the ear for up to 3 months after the ear infection — this is sometimes called ‘glue ear’ (or otitis media with effusion). This fluid can affect hearing for a short time. When there are no other symptoms, most (90%) glue ear cases will clear up without any treatment.

Find out more about the medicines and treatments for middle ear infections and how to treat a fever.

How long will the symptoms of an ear infection last?

For most children (about 80%), the pain caused by an ear infection usually goes away within a few days, with or without treatment.

Paracetamol and ibuprofen can help relieve the pain caused by an ear infection. Only take paracetamol or ibuprofen at the doses and times recommended by your health professional, or as instructed on the medicine label.

For more information, read our pages on relieving the symptoms of middle ear infection, paracetamol and ibuprofen.

  • Sanders S, Glasziou PP, Del Mar CB, Rovers MM. Antibiotics for acute otitis media in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2004, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD000219. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000219.pub2.