How do I relieve the symptoms of a middle ear infection?

Medicines for relieving pain and fever

Paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin can help relieve the pain caused by an ear infection:
  • Adults and children older than 1 month can take paracetamol.
  • Adults and children older than 3 months can take ibuprofen.
  • The correct dose of paracetamol or ibuprofen for children is worked out according to how much your child weighs.
  • Some people may not be able to take paracetamol or ibuprofen.
  • Do not give aspirin for pain or fever to children younger than 12 years as it may cause serious side effects (e.g. Reye’s syndrome, see below).
  • Do not give aspirin for fever in children 12 to 16 years old. This is because Reye’s syndrome, which can affect brain function and cause liver damage, has been associated with aspirin use in children (this is rare i.e. fewer than 1 in 1000 people will experience the side effect).

Fevers are common in young children with an ear infection. A fever (a temperature of 38.5°C or higher) doesn’t necessarily mean you or your child has a serious illness. In fact, a fever helps the body's immune system fight infection. Find out more about how to treat a fever.

Read more about paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin, and measuring and administering a child’s dose of medicine.

If your symptoms do not improve, or they get worse, see your doctor.

Who can I ask about side effects?

If you’re concerned that you or someone in your care may have had side effects related to a medicine, seek medical advice. People with questions about their medicines or seeking general information about side effects can also call the NPS Medicines Line on 1300 633 424 (Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm).To report possible side effects call the Adverse Medicine Events (AME) line on 1300 134 237 from anywhere in Australia (Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm AEST).

Some tips for using pain and fever medicines safely

  • Paracetamol (or ibuprofen) is also a common ingredient in some cold and flu medicines, so it is important to check the active ingredients on the label of your medicine to avoid ‘doubling up’ and taking other medicines that also contain paracetamol.
  • It is important that you tell your health professional about all the medicines you or anyone in your care is taking — including prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, 'natural', and vitamin or mineral supplements). This is because all medicines, including herbal and natural medicines, can cause side effects and may interact with other medicines.
  • Some medicines cannot be taken by people with particular medical conditions, by people who are also taking certain other medicines, by young children, during pregnancy or when breastfeeding.

Read our medicines information pages on paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin.

Phone for medicines information

Call NPS Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) to get information about your prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and mineral supplements) from a pharmacist. Your call will be answered by healthdirect Australia.

References
  • 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.
  • Respiratory Expert Group. Therapeutic guidelines. Respiratory: Otitis media. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Ltd; 2012. (Accessed 26 March 2012).
  • Darwin Otitis Guidelines Group. Recommendations for clinical care guidelines on the management of otitis media in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, April 2010.
    www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-oatsih-pubs-omp.htm
    (accessed 26 March 2012).
  • Rossi S, ed. eAMH [online]. Adelaide: Australian Medicines Handbook, July 2012.