Next to the common cold, ear infections are the most commonly diagnosed childhood illness in the United States. More than three out of four children will have at least one ear infection by the time they reach 3 years of age.

An ear infection is characterized by a buildup of fluid in the eardrum that leads to redness, swelling and pain. Ear infections can be quite painful for little ones who react with crying, sleep disturbances and ear pulling. So it is no wonder that many parents head straight to their health care provider for a remedy, and it's also no wonder that more health care providers offer up a prescription medication that will do more to placate worried parents than it will to alleviate a baby’s distress.

Still, according to Raising Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Babycare, of the 10 million antibiotic prescriptions handed out to treat ear infections each year, roughly 9 million did not actually help the children they were given to. In fact, antibiotics should only be used in to treat the most severe ear infections. In most cases, ear infections will dissipate on their own just as quickly without antibiotics.

If your baby is under 6 months, she should be seen by her pediatrician, particularly if her ear infection is combined with a fever. For older babies though, ear infections are often better treated with over-the-counter pain relief products and rest, unless her condition is accompanied by a high fever and/or severe symptoms.

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