Innerpage banner

Ear Aches and Infections: Know When to Go to Urgent Care


Reviewed by: Frank Garber

Ear infections are the number one reason parents bring their children to the doctor. In fact, by the time they’re 3 years old, five out of six children will have experienced at least one ear infection. Adults can also suffer from the pain of an ear infection. 

With ear infections being so common, especially for children, it’s understandable to question whether you should go to urgent care for an ear infection. Learn if you have an ear infection, when an ear infection is serious, when you should see a doctor for your ear pain and what a doctor can do to treat an ear infection. 

Inner Ear Infection

Typically, viruses such as the flu cause inner ear infections. Common inner ear infection symptoms include:

  • Vertigo.
  • Fever.
  • Headache.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea.
  • Tinnitus or ringing in the ears.
  • Reduced hearing.

It’s best to have a doctor evaluate your symptoms and provide you with the correct diagnosis and treatment. 

If these symptoms are related to a viral ear infection, it’s common for the infection to resolve on its own within a few days. In some cases, a doctor may need to prescribe anti-nausea medication or other medication to help control the symptoms and treat the inner ear infection.

Find an Urgent Care Location


Middle Ear Infection

The middle ear is located right behind the eardrum and is connected to the throat by a small tube called the eustachian tube. The eustachian tube drains fluids but can easily become blocked due to a cold. When the tube is blocked, an infection can occur. Middle ear infections are more common among infants and children, as it’s easier for their eustachian tubes to become blocked.

Common middle ear infection symptoms include:

  • Earaches ranging from mild to severe.
  • Fever.
  • Thick, yellow discharge coming from the ear.
  • Trouble hearing due to a plugged feeling in the ears.
  • Children tugging or pulling at their ears.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  •  Fussiness, crying or irritability in children.

Middle ear infections tend to go away on their own. However, depending on the patient’s age and the severity of the infection, a doctor may prescribe ear drops or antibiotics. 

Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear, an external ear infection, occurs when the outer ear canal becomes infected. Swimmer’s ear often develops after exposure to large amounts of water such as a swimming pool, lake or ocean. When water is in the ear canal for an extended period, fungi and bacteria from the water can grow and infect the ear. 

Common swimmer’s ear symptoms include:

  • Swelling and redness of the ear.
  • Pain when tugging or placing pressure on the ear.
  • Inner ear itchiness.
  • Pus or fluid draining from the ear.
  • Difficulty hearing.

Like the other ear infections mentioned above, treatment will depend on the infection’s severity and other individual factors. For some cases, prescription ear drops or antibiotics may be necessary. Swimmer’s ear will typically be cured within seven to 10 days.

Find a Clinic – Check In Now

Treatment for Ear Pain

Our bodies can typically fight off an ear infection on their own, but you can do things to help your body during this process. Getting enough rest is crucial as your body has to work overtime to fight off infection. It’s also important to nourish your body with enough water and healthy foods.  

Other types of treatment include: 

  • Antibiotics: Typically, antibiotics are prescribed to infants, patients with symptoms lasting longer than three days and patients with severe infections. If prescribed an antibiotic, take it exactly as prescribed. Even if symptoms stop after only a few days of use, continue to take the antibiotic for the total amount of time to ensure the infection is completely cleared up. 
  • Over-the-counter medicine: Not all ear infections require an antibiotic. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help manage symptoms while your body fights the infection. Always follow over-the-counter medicine directions and consult your doctor or pharmacist to confirm the correct dosage for children. Unless prescribed by your doctor, do not give your child aspirin, as it can cause Reye’s syndrome, a metabolic disorder that causes liver damage. Additionally, children under 6 months old should only be given acetaminophen after you consult with a doctor. 
  • Ear drops: Ear drops can either be over-the-counter or prescribed by a doctor. Prescription ear drops can also include an antibiotic. Ear drops help stop the growth of bacteria, help soothe and treat ear pain and decrease ear swelling. 
  • Watchful waiting: Over-prescribing antibiotics can lead to the development of bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics. So, to prevent unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions, a doctor may recommend closely watching ear infection symptoms to see if they resolve on their own. If the immune system is still unable to fight off the infection after three days, this could be a sign an antibiotic is needed. 
  • Delayed prescribing: Similar to watchful waiting, delayed prescribing is when your doctor will prescribe antibiotics but recommend waiting two to three days before starting the treatment. These extra days give your body time to treat the infection on its own. If symptoms persist after three days, start the antibiotic and use it as directed. 

How Long Do Ear Infections Last?

As discussed earlier, infections that last longer than three days will require additional treatment from a doctor. After visiting your doctor, you should start feeling better within a few days. If symptoms continue and you do not feel better, contact your doctor, as a different antibiotic may need to be prescribed.

When to Seek Treatment

As ear infections often go away on their own, it can be hard to know when ear pain is serious enough to see a doctor. Common symptoms that indicate you should go to urgent care for ear infection treatment include:

  • A fever of 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit or more.
  • Symptoms lasting more than two to three days.
  • Worsening symptoms.
  • Itching of the ear or ear canal.
  • Pain in the ear.
  • Loss of or difficulty hearing in one or both ears.
  • Thick, yellow, bloody or foul-smelling discharge or pus.

Visit SouthStar Ugent Care

Find a SouthStar Urgent Care Clinic Near You

When seeking treatment for an ear infection, choose an urgent care provider that delivers personal care. SouthStar Urgent Care is the leading provider of urgent care services throughout Louisiana. Our team members treat each patient how we would like to be treated, ensuring you get quality care for you and your family. 

Find a SouthStar Urgent Care clinic near you today!