Treating an ear infection typically costs between $0 and $110. However, the cost depends on the severity of your infection, type of treatment recommended, cost of prescriptions, and insurance status. Ear infections will usually resolve on their own but sometimes require medical intervention, especially if symptoms do not improve after a few days. There are many different types of ear infections, but the most common include middle ear infections and swimmer’s ear.
Cost of Treating an Ear Infection without Insurance
Swimmer’s ear and middle ear infections are two common types of ear infections. Since these infections occur in different parts of the ear, they require different treatments and times for recovery. Treatment for an ear infection depends on a few factors, including the type of infection, the severity of the infection, and the number of times you have experienced an ear infection. Symptoms of ear infections usually improve within the first couple of days and can sometimes be resolved without treatment.
If your condition worsens, you should consider taking over-the-counter medication or seeing a health care provider. Some of the best-recommended medications for treating an ear infection or the pain associated with it include:
- Tylenol and Motrin for pain-relievers
- Amoxicillin for oral antibiotics
- Ofloxacin .3 percent ear drop for middle ear infections
- Antipyrine and benzocaine otic (A/B Otic) drops for anesthetic ear drops
Note that your health care provider will be able to advise which medication is best for you.
Self-Treatment & Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medications
Many people with an ear infection can find relief without seeing a doctor. Many ear infections resolve on their own, especially those caused by viruses rather than bacteria. Nonetheless, there are many self-treatment and OTC medications that can help treat and manage the pain of an ear infection. The Mayo Clinic recommends these no-cost home remedies for helping with an ear infection:
- Applying a warm cloth to the affected ear
- Getting lots of rest
- Avoiding sleeping on the infected ear
- Keeping the ear dry
Many people also use these OTC medications to reduce pain caused by an ear infection:
- OTC pain-relieving medications (e.g., Advil, Tylenol, etc.)
- OTC ear drops
- OTC decongestants
The table below shows the cost of several pain-relieving medications, ear drops, and decongestants that you can purchase over-the-counter to help treat an ear infection.
Cost of Commonly Used Medications For Ear Infections
|Type of Medication||Name||Average Price|
|OTC Ear Drops||Biovea Ear Soothing Oil||$18|
|OTC Ear Drops||Polysporin Plus Pain Relief Ear||$20|
|OTC Ear Drops||Hyland’s Earache Drops||$7|
*Average prices of these over-the-counter medications were taken from various sites and rounded to the nearest dollar. Prices will range based on pharmacy location and the amount of medication needed.
If your symptoms do not resolve within a few days, you should see a doctor. A health care provider will be able to diagnose an ear infection after an examination. They will take your medical history and ask you about the symptoms you have been experiencing. An otoscope, a medical device used to look into the ears, will be used to examine your ears, throat, and nasal passages.
Antibiotics may be prescribed and other OTC medication may also be recommended to reduce pain. If you visit a doctor’s office for an ear infection, you can expect to pay between $25 and $250 for your appointment without insurance. If you are insured, the copay for a doctor’s appointment will usually average between $5 and $75.
Source: Medline Plus
If you cannot get an appointment with your primary care provider or would like to see a doctor in the evening or weekend, you should go to urgent care. The national average charge for an urgent care visit for ear pain is about $100. Many factors can influence the cost of your urgent care visit, so it is important to check the prices at the urgent care you intend to visit.
If you see a doctor at an urgent care or primary care office, they will help determine the best course of action, which may be prescribing antibiotics or other OTC medications. There are many antibiotics that are commonly prescribed to help treat an ear infection. The table below shows the prices of some antibiotics that can be prescribed to treat an ear infection.
Cost of Commonly Prescribed Antibiotics for Treating an Ear Infection
Cost for one week of medication
$5 - $10
$20 - $30
$30 - 60
$238 - $281
$15 - $44
$59 - $82
$7 - $16
Source: GoodRx Health
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Factors that Affect the Cost of Treating an Ear Infection
The cost of treating an ear infection is dependent upon if you seek treatment and the type of treatment you receive. If you choose to visit your doctor or an urgent care clinic, that will be your first expense. There will also be costs associated with OTC or prescription medications. Both of these costs will be affected by your insurance status and policy.
Office Visit & Co-Pay
If you decide to seek care for an ear infection, the first cost you will face will likely be the cost of your visit to the doctor. An office visit generally costs between $25 and $250. These prices are dependent upon the specific clinic, geographic region, and insurance policy. The average cost for an urgent care visit regarding ear pain is $100.
If you have more severe or recurring ear infections, your primary care provider may suggest that you see an Ear Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist. The cost of seeing an ENT typically ranges from $144 to $267 if paying without insurance.
Type of Treatment
The cost of your treatment for an ear infection will depend on what type of medication your doctor recommends. If you have a viral infection, your doctor may just recommend OTC medication such as pain relievers, ear drops, or decongestants. Your doctor may prescribe you antibiotics if they believe you have a bacterial infection, which are typically more expensive than OTC medications.
Antibiotics prescribed for a bacterial ear infection typically cost between $20 and $110 for a week’s worth of treatment if paying without insurance. If you have severe or recurring ear infections, your doctor may recommend surgery. The placement of ear tubes within the eardrum can assist in the prevention of fluid buildup. This surgery usually costs between $2,400 and $7,000. This surgery is only recommended in more serious cases of recurring ear infections.
Your insurance status will be a factor in the total cost of treating your ear infection. Those who are uninsured will pay a flat fee for both the office or urgent care visit and the medication prescribed. If you are insured, you will pay the copay cost when visiting your doctor. Again, this ranges between $5 and $75, depending on your insurance policy.
If you are uninsured, asking for the generic version of your prescribed antibiotics is a great option to make treatment more affordable. The average cost of brand-name antibiotics is $221.75, compared to their generic counterparts costing $42.67. If you’re looking to save up to 80% off on antibiotics, you may want to consider a Mira membership. You can get access to exclusive discounts on prescription medications by signing up for Mira for just $45 per month.
There are several types of ear infections that can occur in the three main parts of the ear: inner, middle, and outer. Each type of infection is characterized by the location it manifests in and whether it is a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection. Types of ear infections include:
- Otitis externa - inflammation of the outer ear typically caused by water
- Otitis media - an infection of the middle ear
- Serous otitis media - a build-up of fluid and pus within the middle ear
- Infectious myringitis - inflammation of the eardrum
- Acute mastoiditis - inflammation of the mastoid bone caused by prior otitis media
- Vestibular neuritis - inflammation of the vestibular nerve (the nerve that relays information related to motion and position to the brain)
- Herpes zoster of the ear - infection of the cochlear nerve by the herpes zoster virus specifically
Any three parts of the ear can become infected by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. The inner ear refers to the innermost part of the ear and is where sounds are translated and sent to the brain. The middle ear comprises the eardrum and three tiny bones that amplify the sounds that enter the ear. The outer ear includes what you can see on the side of your head and the canal that leads into the middle ear.
Causes of Ear Infections
Ear infections are caused by bacteria, fungus, or viruses similar to those that cause colds and flu. There are many contributing risk factors to the development of ear infections. These can include environmental factors, developmental factors, and genetic factors. BetterHealth.gov lists some of the most common causes of ear infections, which include:
- Upper respiratory tract infections
- Sudden changes in air pressure
- Swimming in polluted water
- Small or blocked Eustachian tubes (part of the ear that connects the middle ear to the back of your throat)
- Cleft Palate
- Age - four out of five children will have a middle ear infection at least once
- Poor air quality
- Family history of ear infections
- Cold climate
Symptoms of an Ear Infection
Symptoms manifest differently in everyone and also depend on the type of ear infection you are experiencing. The most common symptoms are earache(s) and general discomfort in the infected area. Other possible symptoms include:
- Ear pain
- Trouble Hearing
- Nasal congestion
- Drainage of fluid from the ear
- Loss of balance
- Fever of 100 F or higher
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Middle vs. Outer Ear Infection
Otitis media refers to the middle ear, whereas otitis externa refers to the outer ear. Otitis media, an infection of the middle ear, is the most common ear infection. This type of infection can be acute, lasting only for a short time, chronic, lasting for a long time, or recurring.
Although research shows that viruses are responsible for most cases, middle ear infections can also be caused by bacteria. Middle ear infections are caused by fluid buildup behind the eardrum. This buildup allows for the growth of bacteria and viruses which can lead to pain, swelling, and bulging of the eardrum. Trouble hearing is commonly experienced when having a middle ear infection.
Otitis externa is the inflammation or infection of the ear canal found between the eardrum and the outer ear. It is commonly referred to as “swimmer’s ear,” as those who spend a lot of time in the water frequently develop this infection. Water can get trapped in the ear canal and provide a home for bacteria to grow.
Cost of Treating an Ear Infection Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
If you believe that you have an ear infection, you may have some questions. Consider the following additional information when determining the proper treatment and cost of an ear infection.
Will my ear infection go away if I don’t do anything about it?
Most ear infections will eventually go away on their own. However, if you notice your symptoms are not getting better on their own or with OTC pain medication, you should see a doctor. Untreated ear infections carry many potential risks for complications, including spreading your infection to other areas, bursting of the eardrum, and hearing loss.
How can I prevent an ear infection from occurring?
Ear infections are very common in children, but adults also have a risk of getting them. There are many ways to reduce your chances of developing an ear infection. These include not smoking, controlling allergies, keeping the ears dry (especially after being submerged in water), preventing colds, practicing good hygiene, and breastfeeding your baby.
Why can’t I take antibiotics for a viral ear infection?
Antibiotics only work for bacterial infections. If you take an antibiotic when you have a viral ear infection, you could be doing your body more harm than good. Antibiotics will attack the good bacteria in your body if taken incorrectly and can promote antibiotic-resistant properties in your bacteria. Therefore, only taking antibiotics prescribed to you and following instructions carefully is especially important.
Can I get diagnosed with an ear infection using telehealth?
You can get diagnosed with an ear infection through virtual care. However, some doctors may ask that you come in for a physical examination as well. Mira has recently launched virtual care options for its members. Members can select a virtual primary care physician, get diagnosed virtually, and obtain prescriptions, all for $45 per month with low copays between $5-$15.
An ear infection can be painful and warrant medical intervention. If you do not find relief with home treatment or by “waiting it out”, your doctor may recommend treatment with antibiotics, over-the-counter medications, or surgery in more severe recurring cases. The cost of treating an ear infection increases when more medical attention is needed. You should expect to pay for the office or urgent care visit and the over-the-counter or prescription medications.
Should you need a prescription to help treat your ear infection, Mira can help! Membership for just $45 per month can save you up to 80% off on prescription antibiotics. You can get access to exclusive discounts on prescription medication, low-cost urgent care visits, and affordable lab testing by signing up for Mira today.
Kendra Bean is from Maui, Hawaiʻi. She is currently enrolled at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, specializing in Epidemiology. She is passionate about improving health literacy and access to care, specifically in rural areas.