What is an ear infection?
An ear infection is when there is a bacterial or viral infection in the part of the internal ear, known as the middle ear. This condition is called otitis media. The space behind the eardrum where the infection starts becomes swollen due to a buildup of fluid and often results in pain. Ear infections can be mild, acute, or chronic.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of an ear infection are presented as:
- Consistent pain inside the ear
- Fluid or drainage coming from the ear tunnel
- Trouble or loss of hearing in affected ear
- A feeling of pressure that can’t be removed by usual methods
- Children and infants may appear fussier than normal, have loss of appetite, troubles sleeping, and usually with a high fever (100ºF/38ºC)
- Chronic ear infection symptoms may not be as noticeable as those with acute ear infections
What are the causes?
The most common cause of an ear infection is from a cold or previous respiratory infection. The bacteria or virus can travel through the eustachian tubes to the middle ear. Other causes may be allergies, smoking, or changes in air pressure or altitude. If there is excess mucus, this can cause a blockage in the eustachian tubes leading to an infection.
What are the treatments?
If the ear infection does not clear up on its own, there are traditional methods as well as medications that can help.
- Warm or cold compresses using a cloth
- Over-the-counter mild pain medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- Ear drops to treat pain
- Antibiotics prescribed by a doctor
- Observing and/or running tests
When should you seek a doctor?
Some ear infection symptoms could indicate a more serious problem. Make an appointment with a doctor if one or more of these are present.
- Pain is no longer mild and has become severe
- Lots of fluid or bloody discharge has started coming from the ear
- Symptoms do not improve after a few days
- A child younger than 6 months is presenting with symptoms
- The infection is accompanied by a high fever