Antibiotics for Ear Infections in Adults

Antibiotics are prescribed for some types of bacterial ear infections in adults. Since different types of ear infections require different treatment, your doctor will do a careful examination and obtain your health history before deciding how best to treat your ear infection. Always make sure to tell your doctor about medication allergies and any other health conditions you have so she can make safe treatment choices for you.

Doctor examining a woman's ear. (Image: LUNAMARINA/iStock/Getty Images)

External Ear Infection

Otitis externa is the medical term for an infection affecting the ear canal leading to the eardrum. In some cases, the infection may also involve the outer ear. Otitis externa caused by excessive exposure to moisture is commonly called swimmer's ear. Antibiotic or antiseptic eardrops are the recommended treatment for otitis externa in adults and children. Commonly used antibiotic eardrops include a combination of polymyxin B and neomycin (Cortisporin Otic), ciprofloxacin (Cipro HC, Ciprodex) and ofloxacin (Floxin Otic). An anti-inflammatory medicine is included in some antibiotic eardrops, which may help ease the pain associated with the infection.

Middle Ear Infection

Acute otitis media refers to a painful infection of the middle ear, which is the area between the eardrum and inner ear. With this infection, the middle ear space fills with pus-like fluid, causing inflammation and bulging of the eardrum. Oral amoxicillin (Amoxil, Moxatag) or amoxicillin with clavulanate (Augmentin) are typically the preferred antibiotics for treating acute otitis media in both adults and children. Azithromycin (Zithromax), cefuroxime (Ceftin) or another antibiotic will be prescribed for people with a penicillin allergy.

Ear Infection Complications

In some cases, a simple ear infection can lead to complications. For example, a middle ear infection may spread into the bone behind the ear. Similarly, an external ear infection may spread deep into the skin or nearby bone. An ear infection that has spread can also lead to a pocket of infection, known as an abscess. These complications of ear infections are typically treated with strong antibiotics given by mouth or directly into a vein. Although rare, surgery may be needed to help clear the spreading infection in severe cases.

Warnings and Precautions

If you are being treated with an antibiotic for an ear infection, call your doctor if your symptoms do not improve in 2 to 3 days or become worse. Occasionally, a different antibiotic needs to be used to better target the bacteria causing the infection. Call your doctor right away if you notice redness or tenderness behind your ear, develop a fever, or notice increased swelling, redness or pain of the outer ear. If you develop a rash, swelling of your tongue or lips, or shortness of breath after taking an oral antibiotic, stop taking the medication and call your doctor immediately or go to the nearest emergency room.

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