Ear Infection (Otitis Media): Symptoms, Causes, Prevention and Treatment
Ear infections are a common ailment in children, but can also occur in adults. Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear, and is typically caused by bacteria or viruses. The symptoms of an ear infection can vary depending on the severity of the infection, but may include pain, fever, drainage from the ear, and difficulty hearing. There are a number of ways to prevent ear infections, including practicing good hygiene and immunizing against Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. If you think you or your child may have an ear infection, it is important to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
What is an ear infection?
A commonly used term “ear infection” is known medically as acute otitis media or a sudden infection in the middle ear (the space behind eardrum). Anyone could get this, although it mainly affects children. Youngsters might visit healthcare providers if they have experienced frequent symptoms like pain when moving their ears around since sometimes these infections won’t show up right away and there may also come days where you feel better than usual but then relapse again without knowing why.
In many cases, ear infections clear up on their own. Your healthcare provider may recommend a medication to relieve pain and if the infection has worsened or not improved they will prescribe an antibiotic for you which is usually necessary in children younger than two years old because it’s more powerful than other types of medications used against bacteria such as penicillin-based ones that work better when taken by mouth rather than injection into muscle tissue (intracytoplasmic).
If you or your child is experiencing pain, discomfort, hearing problems and/or fluid buildup in the ear canal it’s important to see a healthcare provider.
A serious effect of an ongoing infection can be permanent Hearing impairment occurs when there has been frequent exposure over time as well as with deeper infections that don’t get better on their own.
Where is the middle ear?
When we think of the ear, it’s hard not to notice its most prominent feature: A large redbox called an “eardrum.” The middle layer deep within your head is where you’ll find this critical membrane that helps protect all those delicate bones inside from noise and vibrations by moving water around. These ossicles – malleals (hammer), incus (anvil), and stapes (stirrup), play essential roles during hearing processes with their functions varying depending on what type or level.
There are three main parts of the ear: outer, middle and inner.
- The outer ear is the outside external ear flap and the ear canal (external auditory canal).
- The middle ear is the air-filled space between the eardrum (tympanic membrane) and the inner ear. The middle ear houses the delicate bones that transmit sound vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear. This is where most ear infections occur.
- The inner ear contains the snail-shaped labyrinth that converts sound vibrations received from the middle ear to electrical signals. The auditory nerve carries these signals to the brain.
If you’re experiencing an infection or other problem in your outer or middle ear, it’s important to seek medical attention right away. Inner ear problems can be more difficult to diagnose and may require specialist care.
Other nearby parts:
The ear also contains other nearby parts, such as the adenoids and the eustachian tubes. The adenoids are small pads of tissue located above the throat and behind the nose. They help fight infection caused by bacteria that enters through the mouth. The eustachian tubes regulate air pressure within the middle ear, connecting it to the upper part of the throat. This helps keep the ear healthy and free from infection.
What causes an ear infection?
Ear infections are caused by bacteria and viruses. Many times, an ear infection begins after a cold or other respiratory infection. The bacteria or virus travel into the middle ear through the eustachian tube (there’s one in each ear). This tube connects the middle ear to the back of the throat. The bacteria or virus can also cause the eustachian tube to swell. This swelling can cause the tube to become blocked, which keeps normally produced fluids to build up in the middle ear instead of being able to be drained away.
When it comes to the eustachian tube, children may be born with a shorter and less sloped version than adults. This physical difference makes them more susceptible toward infection from viruses or bacteria that can cause pain in their ears – especially if they become clogged due too much fluid buildup thereon.
- Acute otitis media is a sudden ear infection that typically affects children. It is caused by bacteria or viruses, and symptoms include fever, earache, and drainage from the ear. Acute otitis media is treated with antibiotics and usually resolves within a few days. When the bacteria or virus infect and trap fluid behind your eardrum, it can cause pain. swelling/bulging (sometimes massive) of an ear drum as well has resulting in commonly used term “ear infection.” Ear infections happen suddenly or may come back often for long periods – there is no way to know until you get tested.
- Otitis media with effusion is a more common type of ear infection that typically affects adults. It is caused by fluid buildup in the middle ear, and symptoms include earache, hearing loss, and ringing in the ear. Otitis media with effusion is treated with antibiotics if it is caused by bacteria, or with ear drops if it is caused by fluid buildup.
- Chronic suppurative otitis media is a rarer type of ear infection that can affect both children and adults. It is caused by a long-term infection in the ear, and symptoms include drainage from the ear, hearing loss, and pain. Chronic suppurative otitis media is treated with antibiotics and surgery may be needed to correct damage to the ear.
What are the symptoms of otitis media (middle ear infection)?
- Ear pain: When your child has ear pain, it’s usually an indication that they’re feeling discomfort. The most common symptom in children and adults alike is crying more than usual or having trouble sleeping due to the severity of their symptoms. Infants too young speak out may display signs like rubbing/tugging on one ear, crying more than usual, trouble sleeping, acting fussy/irritable.
- Loss of appetite: Loss of appetite can be a side effect from ear infections, especially in children during bottle feedings. The pressure inside an infant’s head changes as they suck on their dolls or stuffed animals while drinking breastmilk- this causes pain which makes them want less food than usual before eventually losing all interest in eating at all.
- Irritability: Those who suffer from pain may be irritable due to their continuing discomfort.
- Poor sleep: Poor sleep can make pain worse for children, especially if they are laying down. The pressure in their ears may worsen as well and cause more discomfort to the young ones who need restorative measures from time-to-time with Mom or Dad’s help.
- Fever: When a child has an ear infection, their fever can reach up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. And in some cases 50% of kids even get sick with what seems like nothing else going on at all.
- Drainage from the ear: Yellow, brown or white fluid that is not earwax may seep from the ears. This could mean one of two things: either your eardrum has ruptured (broken) or there’s an blocked drainage system in place and it needs to be opened up by a doctor immediately.
- Trouble hearing: The bones in your ear help send sound waves to the brain, but if there’s too much fluid behind them it can slow down these electrical signals and make you more likely hear things differently.
Who is most likely to get an ear infection (otitis media)?
Ear infections are a common problem, especially in young children. In fact, ear infections are the most common reason for pediatricians to prescribe antibiotics. But who is most likely to get an ear infection?
- Age: Infants and young children (between 6 months of age and 2 years) are at greater risk for ear infections. This is because their eustachian tubes, which allow fluid to drain from the ears, are narrower and more easily blocked.
- Family history: The tendency to get ear infections can run in the family. If one or both parents have had an ear infection, their child is more likely to get one too.
- Colds: Having colds often increases the chances of getting an ear infection. A cold virus can cause the lining of the eustachian tubes to swell, which blocks the flow of fluid.
- Allergies: Allergies cause inflammation (swelling) of the nasal passages and upper respiratory tract, which can enlarge the adenoids. Enlarged adenoids can block the eustachian tube, preventing ear fluids from draining. This leads to fluid buildup in the middle ear, causing pressure, pain and possible infection.
- Chronic illnesses: People with chronic (long-term) illnesses, such as immune deficiency and chronic respiratory disease, are more likely to develop ear infections. This is especially true for patients with cystic fibrosis and asthma.
- Ethnicity: Native Americans and Hispanic children have more ear infections than other ethnic groups. This may be due to differences in anatomy, genetics, or exposure to certain bacteria.
How is an ear infection diagnosed?
Ear infections are typically diagnosed through a physical exam. Your healthcare provider will look at your ear using an instrument called an otoscope. A healthy eardrum will be pinkish gray in color and translucent (clear). If infection is present, the eardrum may be inflamed, swollen or red.
If you or your child are experiencing signs or symptoms of an ear infection, it is important to see your healthcare provider as soon as possible for treatment. Left untreated, ear infections can cause further complications. Early diagnosis and treatment is key in preventing these complications.
In order to diagnose an ear infection, your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination of your ear using an otoscope. They will look for any swelling, inflammation, or redness on the eardrum, which may be indicative of an infection. Additionally, they will listen to your breathing and throat for any other signs of respiratory infection, and may also take throat and nasal swabs to test for bacteria. If you are experiencing severe pain, dizziness, or vertigo, your provider may order additional tests such as a CT scan or MRI.
Your healthcare provider will also check your throat and nasal passage for signs of upper respiratory infections and listen to your breathing with a stethoscope. By looking at all of these symptoms together, your healthcare provider can make a diagnosis of an ear infection. In some cases, a throat culture or nasal swab may also be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.
How is an ear infection treated?
Ear infections are treated depending on the age of the child, the severity of the infection, and if fluid remains in the middle ear for a long period of time.
Your healthcare provider will recommend medications to relieve you or your child’s pain and fever. If the ear infection is mild, depending on the age of the child, your healthcare provider may choose to wait a few days to see if the infection goes away on its own before prescribing an antibiotic.
However, if the infection is more severe, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics immediately. In some cases, surgery may also be needed to remove fluid from the ear. If your child has an ear infection, it is important to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions carefully to ensure a speedy and full recovery.
Ear infections can be painful and uncomfortable, but with the help of your healthcare provider, you or your child can recover quickly. For more information on ear infections and their treatment, please talk to your healthcare provider.
Your healthcare provider might prescribe antibiotics if bacteria are thought to cause your child’s ear infection. They should wait up until three days after they start taking the medicine before giving them a second prescription, as this will allow time for milder forms of kernels (infections) and other illnesses that don’t require immediate treatment; otherwise it could trigger severe cases in those who have already been exposed. In some cases, antibiotics might be started right away if your or the child’s ear infection is severe.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommendations for how long you should wait before prescribing an antibiotic based on the child’s age, severity of their infection and temperature. These are shown in table below:
American Academy of Pediatrics Treatment Guide for Acute Otitis Media (AOM)
|Child’s Age||Severity of AOM /
|6 months and older;
in one or both ears
|Moderate to severe for at least 48 hours or temp of 102.2° F or higher||Treat with antibiotic|
|6 months through 23 months;
in both ears
|Mild for < 48 hours and
temp < 102.2
|Treat with antibiotic|
|6 months to 23 months;
in one ear
|Mild for < 48 hours and
temp < 102.2° F
|Treat with antibiotic OR observe. If observe, start antibiotics if child worsens or doesn’t improve within 48 to 72 hours of start of symptoms|
|24 months or older;
in one or both ears
|Mild for < 48 hours and
temp < 102.2° F
|Treat with antibiotic OR observe. If observe, start antibiotics if child worsens or doesn’t improve within 48 to 72 hours of start of symptoms
If you or your child’s healthcare provider prescribing an antibiotic, it is very important to take exactly as directed. You should start feeling better within a few days of starting treatment and even if the pain has gone away don’t stop taking medications until they tell me that’s what needs done! If this drug was handed out in capsule form then make sure there are enough for both meals and snacks throughout each day because not eating anything can lead right back into infection from lack-of appetite due two being sick already.
When a hole has been made in your eardrum, it can be treated with antibiotic ear droppers and sometimes by using suctioning devices to remove fluids. Your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions about what actions are best for treatment of this condition- depending on whether or not there was any underlying cause involved as well.
Tylenol® or Advil®, Motrin® can be used to relieve earache and fever. Your healthcare provider will prescribe pain-relieving medications for you or your child depending on the severity of their condition, as well provide any additional instructions needed with these products fully stocked at all times in order to ensure quick relief from symptoms.
Never give aspirin to children. Aspirin can cause a life-threatening condition called Reye’s Syndrome, which affects their ability of the body’s organs and muscles work properly. For example: earaches tend pain more at bedtime; using warm compresses outside on adults may also help relieve it (not recommended for infants).
Ear tubes (tympanostomy tubes):
In fact most kids will have experienced at least one episode by age 5 and some may experience frequent infections. When this happens, it can cause problems with hearing because fluid might build up in your child’s ears which makes them unable to hear properly or at all during certain times due when they’re sick again (otitis media).
Telltale signs of an ear infection in children can include pain inside the ear, a sense of fullness in the ear, muffled hearing, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, crying, irritability and tugging at the ears (especially in very young children). They might have muffled hearing; feverish symptoms such as nausea/vomiting among others and if it’s very recent then there’ll probably also be diarrhea too.
Your child may need to wear ear tubes if they’ve experienced three or more episodes of chronic infection in the last six months, had four infections overall during that time period and are at risk for hearing loss because fluid buildup behind their eardrum caused permanent damage.
There are many benefits to using ear tubes, including the fact that they provide immediate relief for small children who are developing their speech and language skills.
If you are experiencing problems with your hearing, an ear-nose throat (ENT) doctor may be the best option for treatment. During this outpatient surgical procedure called myringotomy with placement of tube; they willinsert a small metal or plastic instrument through tiny incisions in both ears which allows air into their middle section while also allowing fluid to drain out imperfections that cause disease.
This procedure only takes about 10 minutes and the complication rate is low. You’ll likely want to stay home from work for this one, as it will be sore afterword. This tube usually stays in place until your eardrum heals completely so keep things dry by not getting wet or immersed underwater. The tube usually stays in place from six to 12 months, but it can also be removed by your doctor if needed; keep the outer ear dry until then.
What are the harms of fluid buildup in your ears or repeated or ongoing ear infections?
When an ear infection occurs, it can cause long-term problems. These complications include:
Loss of hearing:
Some mild, temporary hearing loss (muffling/distortion) usually occurs during an ear infection. Ongoing infections that repeatedly occur and damage to internal structures in the ear from a buildup of fluid can cause more significanth ting issues.
Delayed speech and language development:
Delayed speech and language development can be a major problem for children. They need to hear, in order learn their first words! If they don’t get enough volume or are constantly muffled by hearing aids when you speak with them it will significantly delay progress with understanding how we communicate on an everyday level.
Tear in the eardrum:
A small tear can develop from pressure on it as fluid builds up in one’s ears. About 5% to 10%, or even less than 1 out of 100 people with an infection will have this happen; however if you’re experiencing any kind of pain near your ear canal and/or blood-tinged discharge then seek medical attention immediately since there may be more serious problems waiting for us past just a simple cleaning procedure.
Spread of the infection:
The infection can spread beyond the ear, damaging nearby mastoid bone. On rare occasions it may also infect to the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meninges) and cause meningitis. Ear infections are a common problem, particularly in children. However, there are many things that you can do to prevent them.
- Don’t smoke: Smoking increases your risk of developing an ear infection.
- Control allergies: Allergies can cause inflammation and lead to ear infections.
- Prevent colds: A common cause of ear infections is a cold or other respiratory infection.
- Breastfeed your baby: Breastfeeding provides your baby with immunity to many common infections, including ear infections.
- Bottle feed baby in upright angle: This will help keep fluid from flowing into the baby’s Eustachian tubes, which can lead to ear infections.
- Watch for mouth breathing or snoring: Snoring can also lead to fluid accumulation in the ear, which can increase your risk of developing an ear infection.
- Get vaccinations: Vaccinations can help protect you from some of the viruses that cause ear infections.
What should I expect if I or my child has an ear infection?
Ear infections are common in both children and adults. Most ear infections are not serious, but they can cause pain and fever. Your healthcare provider may recommend over-the-counter medications to relieve pain and fever. Pain relief may begin as soon as a few hours after taking the drug.
If you or your child has an ear infection, your healthcare provider may wait a few days before prescribing an antibiotic. Many infections go away on their own without the need for antibiotics. If you or your child receives an antibiotic, you should start to see improvement within two to three days.
If you or your child experiences frequent or ongoing ear infections, or if fluid remains in the ear after an infection clears up, please consult with your healthcare provider.
When should I return to my healthcare provider for a follow-up visit?
Most people will need to return to their healthcare provider for a follow-up visit after being treated for an ear infection. At that visit, your healthcare provider will examine your eardrum to make sure the infection is going away. They may also test your hearing.
Follow-up exams are very important, especially if the infection has caused a hole in the eardrum. If you have any questions or concerns, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider. They can help you understand what to expect during your recovery and answer any questions you may have.
When should I call the doctor about an ear infection?
If your child is showing any of the following symptoms, you should call the doctor:
- A stiff neck
- Sluggishness, looking or acting very sick, or does not stop crying despite all efforts
- Walk is not steady; he or she is physically weak
- Severe ear pain
- Fever over 104° F (40° C)
- Weakness in their face (look for a crooked smile)
- Bloody or pus-filled fluid draining from the ear
- The fever remains or comes back more than 48 hours after starting an antibiotic
- Ear pain is not better after three days of taking an antibiotic
- Ear pain is severe.
An ear infection, or otitis media, is a very common problem for children. Most ear infections will clear up on their own within a few days, but if your child is showing any of the symptoms listed above, you should call the doctor. These symptoms may indicate that the infection has spread and requires antibiotics to clear it up. Severe ear pain can also be a sign of an abscess in the ear, which is a more serious condition and requires immediate medical attention. Fever over 104° F (40° C) is also a cause for concern and should be checked out by a doctor.
If your child’s fever persists after taking antibiotics for 48 hours, you should call the doctor again. Ear pain that does not get better after taking antibiotics for three days is also a reason to call the doctor. Anytime you have questions or concerns about your child’s health, it is best to speak with a pediatrician.
Why do children get many more ear infections than adults?
Ear infections are a common childhood ailment. Many children will suffer from at least one ear infection by the time they reach the age of eight. Why do children get so many more ear infections than adults?
There are several reasons why children are more prone to ear infections than adults. Firstly, the eustachian tubes in young children are shorter and more horizontal. This shape encourages fluid to gather behind the eardrum, which can lead to infection. Secondly, the immune system of children is still developing, making them more susceptible to infection. And thirdly, the adenoids in children are relatively larger than they are in adults.
The adenoids are small pads of tissue above the throat and behind the nose and near the eustachian tubes. As they swell to fight infection, they may block the normal ear drainage from the eustachian tube into the throat.
Most children stop getting ear infections by age 8. However, some children continue to experience frequent ear infections well into adulthood. If your child is experiencing frequent ear infections, be sure to consult your doctor for advice. Treatment options may include antibiotics, decongestants, or surgery to remove the adenoids. With proper treatment, most children can overcome their ear infection problems and enjoy a healthy childhood.
Do I need to cover my ears if I go outside with an ear infection?
No, you do not need to cover your ears if you go outside with an ear infection. It is important to keep the ear infection clean and dry, so make sure to wash your hands before touching your ears and avoid getting water in your ear canal. If you have a lot of discharge coming from your ear, you may want to wear a headband or a bandanna to keep the hair away from your ear so the discharge can escape.
You can also put a few drops of rubbing alcohol or white vinegar in your ear to help dry it out. If the pain is too severe, take some over-the-counter pain medication and call your doctor.
Can I swim if I have an ear infection?
If you have an ear infection, it’s generally okay to swim as long as you don’t have a tear (perforation) in your eardrum or have drainage coming out of your ear. Consult with your doctor if you’re not sure whether it’s safe for you to swim. Swimming can help to relieve the pressure and discomfort caused by an ear infection, but it’s important to avoid getting water in your ear. If you have a perforated eardrum, swimming can cause the wound to open up and may lead to further damage.
If you have drainage coming from your ear, it could increase the risk of getting an infection. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, wait until your infection has cleared up before swimming. Swimming with an ear infection can also prolong the healing process. Consult with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
Can I travel by air or be in high altitudes if I have an ear infection?
Air travel is generally safe for people with mild to moderate ear infections. However, you may experience temporary pain during takeoff and landing when the pressure changes. Swallowing fluids, chewing on gum during descent, or having a child suck on a pacifier can help relieve discomfort.
If you have a more severe ear infection, it’s best to wait until the infection has cleared before flying. High altitudes can worsen symptoms and may prolong the healing process. Talk to your doctor if you’re not sure whether it’s safe for you to fly.
If you’re experiencing any pain or other symptoms related to your ear infection, be sure to consult a doctor before traveling. Early diagnosis and treatment of an ear infection can help prevent further complications.
Are ear infections contagious?
No, ear infections are not contagious, which means that you cannot catch them from other people. However, there are some things that can increase your risk of getting an ear infection, such as having a cold or the flu. If you are experiencing any symptoms of an ear infection, be sure to see a doctor right away. Treatment is essential to preventing the infection from getting worse.
If you think you or your child may have an ear infection, it is important to seek medical attention. Symptoms of ear infections can vary depending on the age of the person affected, but some common indicators include pain, fever, drainage from the ear, and difficulty hearing. There are a number of ways to prevent ear infections, including practicing good hygiene and immunizing against Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please see a doctor right away.
Above article is only for knowledge purpose. Please contact your healthcare provider before using any of above medicine or method. For any query or personal consultation according to your health condition please contact your doctor.