Ear Infections

General
What causes an ear infection?

An ear infection occurs when one of your eustachian tubes becomes swollen or blocked, causing fluid to build up in your middle ear. Eustachian tubes are small tubes that run from each ear directly to the back of the throat. The causes of eustachian tube blockage include:

  • allergies
  • colds
  • sinus infections
  • excess mucus
  • smoking
  • infected or swollen adenoids (tissue near your tonsils that trap harmful bacteria and viruses)
  • changes in air pressure
RISK FACTORS
Risk factors for ear infections

Ear infections occur most commonly in young children because they have short and narrow eustachian tubes. Infants who are bottle-fed also have a higher incidence of ear infections than their breastfed counterparts. Other factors that increase the risk of developing an ear infection are:

  • altitude changes
  • climate changes
  • exposure to cigarette smoke
  • pacifier use
  • recent illness or ear infection
SYMPTOMS
What are the symptoms of ear infections?

A few of the common symptoms of ear infections include:

  • mild pain or discomfort inside the ear
  • a feeling of pressure inside the ear that persists
  • fussiness in young infants
  • pus-like ear drainage
  • hearing loss

These symptoms might persist or come and go. Symptoms may occur in one or both ears. Pain is usually more severe with double ear infection (infection in both ears). Chronic ear infection symptoms may be less noticeable than those of acute ear infections.

Children younger than 6 months who have a fever or ear infection symptoms should see a doctor. Always seek medical attention if your child has a fever higher than 102°F or severe ear pain.

Explore the interactive 3-D diagram below to learn more about ear infections.

DIAGNOSIS
How are ear infections diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your ears with an instrument called an otoscope that has a light and magnifying lens. Examination may reveal:

  • redness, air bubbles, or pus-like fluid inside the middle ear
  • fluid draining from the middle ear
  • a perforation in the eardrum
  • a bulging or collapsed eardrum

If your infection is advanced, your doctor may take a sample of the fluid inside your ear and test it to determine whether certain types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are present. They may also order a computed tomography (CT) scan of your head to determine if the infection has spread beyond the middle ear. Finally, you may need a hearing test, especially if you’re suffering from chronic ear infections.

Video Chat With a Doctor About Your Ear Infection

The doctor can call in a prescription for antibiotics, ear drops, or other medicine to help. Insurance can be used or simply pay a flat fee.

TREATMENT
How are ear infections treated?

Most mild ear infections clear up without intervention. Some of the following methods are effective in relieving the symptoms of a mild ear infection:

  • applying a warm cloth to the affected ear
  • taking over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • using over-the-counter or prescription ear drops to relieve pain
  • taking over-the-counter decongestants such as pseudoephedrine

If your symptoms get worse or don’t improve, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. They may prescribe antibiotics if your ear infection is chronic or doesn’t appear to be improving. If a child under the age of 2 presents with ear infection symptoms, a doctor will likely give them antibiotics as well. It’s important to finish your entire course of antibiotics if they’re prescribed.

Surgery may be an option if your ear infection isn’t eliminated with the usual medical treatments or if you have many ear infections over a short period of time. Most often, tubes are placed in the ears to allow fluid to drain out. In cases that involve enlarged adenoids, surgical removal of the adenoids may be necessary.

COMPLICATIONS
What can be expected in the long term?

Ear infections usually clear up without intervention, but they may recur. The following rare but serious complications may follow an ear infection:

  • hearing loss
  • speech or language delay in children
  • mastoiditis (an infection of the mastoid bone in the skull)
  • meningitis (a bacterial infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord)
  • a ruptured eardrum
PREVENTION
How can ear infections be prevented?

The following practices may reduce the risk of ear infection:

  • washing your hands often
  • avoiding overly crowded areas
  • forgoing pacifiers with infants and small children
  • breastfeeding infants
  • avoiding secondhand smoke
  • keeping immunizations up-to-date
General
How to Use Condoms Safely

  If you’re looking for protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) without a prescription, condoms may be a good option to explore. They’re discrete, relatively inexpensive, and don’t involve any synthetic hormones. Condoms are also readily available at your nearest convenience or drug store. What are the safest …

General
Practicing safe sex

A sexually transmitted disease (STD) is an infection that’s spread during sexual contact with another person. This includes touching, since some STDs can be spread from skin-to-skin contact. In general, STDs are highly preventable. Almost 20 million new STDs are diagnosed each year in the United States, according to the Centers …

General
Eardrum Rupture

What is an eardrum rupture? An eardrum rupture is a small hole or tear in your eardrum, or tympanic membrane. The tympanic membrane is a thin tissue that divides your middle ear and outer ear canal. This membrane vibrates when sound waves enter your ear. The vibration continues through the bones …

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons