ear of a woman with black hair

Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention of Ear Infections

Ear infections, also known as middle ear infections or acute otitis media, occur when the space behind the eardrum gets infected. Ear infections are usually viral or bacterial and are most common in children but can happen to anyone at any age. Ear infections are very common, so knowing how to identify and treat them in yourself and your children is essential.

It’s also important to know how to differentiate between ear infections and other conditions and how to deal with chronic ear infections. This article will contain this information and much more, so keep reading to learn everything there is to know about ear infections.

Understanding Ear Infections

Understanding the symptoms, causes, and types of ear infections will help you better understand how to treat and prevent them.

Ear Infection Symptoms

It’s crucial to know the signs of an ear infection so that you can start treatment immediately and help negate the unwanted symptoms.

  • Difficulty hearing
  • Unusual ear drainage
  • Extreme ear pain
  • Loss of appetite
man sitting on a bench in the park and holding his head

In children and babies, it’s difficult to know if they have an ear infection or if something else is hurting them. Therefore, besides the symptoms above, you should watch out for the following signs of a toddler or baby ear infection.

  • High fever
  • Ear tugging or pulling
  • More crying than usual
  • Extra fussy
  • Poor balance
  • Trouble sleeping

Causes of Ear Infections

Ear infections are always bacterial or viral and often result from another illness, such as the cold, flu, or an upper respiratory infection. Ear infections can also occur due to smoke or seasonal allergies, but these are not as common. Ear infections happen when infected germs travel through the eustachian tube to the inner ear and cause an infection and swelling in the eustachian tubes.

Types of Ear Infections

Ear infections can be acute or chronic and can occur in the inner, middle, or outer ear. Each type of ear infection has a similar course of treatment and gets diagnosed the same way.

Ear Infection Diagnosis

To diagnose an ear infection, your doctor will start by performing a physical exam. If they suspect an ear infection, they will perform additional tests, including the following.

  • Tympanometry
  • Tympanocentesis
  • Acoustic reflectometry
  • Hearing tests
woman with headphones

When to See a Doctor For Ear Infection

If you or your child experience the signs and symptoms listed above for more than a day or if they become unbearable, you should see a doctor immediately. Ear infections can become chronic conditions or cause permanent hearing problems if left untreated.

  • Can ear infections cause hearing loss?
    Left untreated, an ear infection can cause permanent hearing loss.
  • Can ear infections cause dizziness?
    A serious inner ear infection can cause nausea, vertigo, dizziness, and balance issues

Ear Infections in Different Age Groups

Anyone, regardless of age, race, fitness level, or gender, can get an ear infection.

Ear Infection in Children

Because of their underdeveloped immune systems, small eustachian tubes, and inability to maintain proper hygiene independently, ear infections are more common in children.

Ear Infection in Adults

Although not as common as in children, adults are still prone to ear infections, accounting for roughly 20% of all ear infections.

Treatment and Management of Ear Infections

The exact course of treatment for your ear infection will vary depending on the type of infection you have and how severe it is.

Ear Infection Treatment

Most ear infections can be treated with home remedies, antibiotics, ear drops, and over-the-counter medications.

Ear Infection Antibiotics

Oral antibiotics, such as amoxicillin and augmentin, are usually the first course of treatment for ear infections that don’t go away on their own.

a hand full of different pills

Ear Infection Pain Relief

While antibiotics will cure the ear infection, they won’t help with the excruciating pain. To combat this, you can use over-the-counter medications, such as Tylenol or NSAIDs, or prescription medications, such as benzocaine otic.

  1. Over-the-counter solutions
  2. Prescribed medications

Ear Infection Ear Drops

Ear drops are antibiotics in liquid form that get dropped into the ear and can be more effective than oral medications. Ear drops can also be antifungals and are great for reducing pain, irritation, and other unwanted ear infection symptoms.

To apply ear drops, lie on your side and pull gently on the bottom of the ear to open your ear canal. Next, have someone drop the ear drops into your ear and remain lying on your side for a minute to give the drops time to work their way into your ear.

How to Drain Ear Infection

If fluid builds up in your inner ear, you may need to manually drain and remove it. To do this, simply hold a warm rag against your ear and lie on your side to allow for drainage. You can also try popping your ears or inhaling warm steam to get the fluid draining.

Ear Infection vs. Swimmer’s Ear

It’s common to mistake an ear infection for Swimmer’s Ear. Both conditions cause a great deal of pain in the ear, but there are subtle differences. The pain caused by Swimmer’s Ear will be more in the outer ear, while an ear infection is in the middle and inner ear. Additionally, while home remedies and antibiotics are enough to treat ear infections, you may also require steroids to treat Swimmer’s Ear.

man swimming in a pool

Dealing with Chronic Ear Infections

If you or your child has ear infections that are recurring and never seem to go away, this is known as a chronic ear infection. Doctors will use a steady dose of antibiotics to treat chronic infections and over-the-counter medications to deal with pain. Surgery to remove enlarged adenoids and tonsils or to install small tubes within the eustachian tubes is also an option for chronic ear infections.

How to Prevent Ear Infections

Because they often occur due to another condition or illness, practicing good hygiene is key to preventing ear infections. To do this, avoid the cold and flu by washing your hands, not spreading germs, and getting flu vaccinations. Additionally, because smoke can cause ear infections, steer clear of primary or secondhand smoke.


Although it’s tough to spot ear infections in infants and toddlers, it’s essential to pay attention to their mannerisms and symptoms and get them to help as quickly as possible. Leaving an ear infection untreated can lead to chronic problems and issues. Additionally, while it’s possible to treat some ear infections on your own, it’s crucial to seek medical assistance if the infection doesn’t resolve within a day or two.

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