What Are the Symptoms of an Ear Infection? Here's What You Should Know
An ear infection, also called otitis media, is most likely to occur in children rather than adults. An ear infection happens when bacteria or germs impact the middle ear. This middle ear region is then flooded with bacteria-fighting cells, which creates pus or fluid build-up. This places pressure on the ear structures, causing various discomforts.
Your child may cry in pain in the middle of the night. It can be tough for the whole family — not to mention, no one likes to see their child in pain. In this article, we’ll explore the basics regarding ear infections, the causes, the symptoms and the treatment options available.
Understanding Ear Infections
The eustachian tube is a passageway located between your middle ear and your throat. This tube prevents the build-up of pressure in the ear by allowing air to move freely from the middle ear or into it.
Before the age of three, the eustachian tubes (you have one on each side) are very small. This means air does not move as freely, and that germs can easily become trapped. This is also why children under three are more susceptible to ear infections.
As you get older, these tubes grow in length and tend to work better. Yet, if you have a cold or allergies, these tubes may still become blocked, leading to an ear infection.
Any time these eustachian tubes become blocked, you are more likely to experience an ear infection. When these tubes are blocked, they are the perfect setting for bacteria growth. Conditions or illnesses that may lead to an ear infection include:
- Sinus infections
- The common cold
- Adenoid problems
- Postnasal drainage
Ultimately, any illness or condition that causes congestion may result in an inner ear infection. A person is also at a higher risk of an ear infection if they experience seasonal allergies, are exposed to high air pollution or smoke, or have a cleft palate, which may cause improper drainage of the eustachian tube.
What Are the Symptoms of an Ear Infection?
Children experiencing an ear infection may present the following signs and symptoms:
- Ear pain that may get worse when laying down
- Pulling on their ear
- Inconsolable crying
- Difficulty hearing
- Balance problems
- 100 F (or 38 C) fever
- Fluid draining from the ear
- Reduced appetite
- Ear pressure
So, what are the symptoms of an ear infection in adults? Adults may experience similar symptoms, such as ear pain, headaches and fluid draining from the ear.
For children under six months of age, you should visit your doctor if any of these symptoms are present. You should also visit your doctor if symptoms persist for longer than 24 hours, the pain is severe, or if fluid is draining from the ear, such as pus, blood or any other fluid.
Ear Infection Treatment
Your doctor will use a special instrument, called an otoscope, to examine your ear when an ear infection is suspected. For more serious and advanced ear infections, your doctor may take a fluid sample from your ear for further investigation.
If you suffer from chronic ear infections, your doctor may also order a hearing test to ensure your ear function hasn’t been affected.
However, most ear infections are mild to moderate in severity. This means they can often be treated at home, without a doctor’s diagnosis.
If you think you or your child have an ear infection, hold a warm washcloth to the affected ear to help reduce pain. Over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen and ear drops may also help lower you or your child’s pain levels. Further, it’s important to treat the condition causing the ear infection in the first place. If you’re congested, rest and take medications to help relieve it.
If your symptoms do not improve or they begin to get worse, visit your doctor’s office. They can help determine what is going on and provide a viable solution. If you are prescribed antibiotics, ensure you finish the full round.
Chronic or Recurring Ear Infections
Frequently, ear infections won’t pose complications or hearing loss down the road. However, recurring ear infections can lead to some issues, including:
- Hearing loss or impaired hearing: permanent damage may happen when ear infections continue for a long time or happen again and again. This is why your doctor may test you or your child for proper hearing if ear infections are a common problem.
- Developmental problems: some children may experience developmental delays due to impaired hearing or hearing loss. They may struggle to socialize or have difficulties with their speech.
- Infection of the mastoid: the mastoid bone is located right behind the ear. An ear infection may spread and impact this bone. Infection may also continue to spread to other areas of the skull or brain, which can lead to serious issues. However, these incidences are very rare.
- Eardrum tears: during an infection and due to the build-up of fluid, the eardrum may tear. Usually, these heal on their own within a few days or 72 hours.
Preventing Ear Infections
While some cases are not preventable, you can take proper actions to lower you or your child’s risk. Through the prevention of common colds or flus, you can reduce situations where the middle ear comes under pressure. Other preventative methods include avoiding smoking and ensuring proper vaccinations are administered.