There are different types of ear infections, based on where in the ear the infection occurs.
Mild symptoms of ear infections that affect the outer or middle ear are mild and usually resolve within one to two weeks and may go away on their own. Inner ear infections can last longer.
Ear infections lasting 6 weeks or longer are considered chronic ear infections. It is important to see a doctor to determine whether an ear infection needs to be treated or not.
In cases of a middle ear infection, medications such as antibiotics might not be needed and a doctor may recommend waiting to see if the infection goes away on its own. Home remedies to relieve the symptoms of an earache include:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Warm compresses applied to the area to help soothe pain
- Over-the-counter medications
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain
- Decongestants such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) to ease ear pressure
- Anti-allergy medications
- Consult your doctor before using over-the-counter pain eardrops. Eardrops should not be used in children with tympanostomy tubes (ear tubes) unless specifically prescribed by a child’s pediatrician.
What Are Symptoms of an Ear Infection?
Symptoms of ear infections include:
- Ear pain
- Discharge from the ear (otorrhea)
- Frequently caused by otitis externa (“swimmer’s ear”)
- Itching in the ear
- Hearing loss
- Often caused by otitis media
- Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
- Fullness in the ear
- Spinning sensation (vertigo)
In children, symptoms of ear infections may also include:
- Pulling on the ear
- Restless sleep
- Decreased appetite or difficulty eating
- Decreased activity
What Causes an Ear Infection?
Ear infections in the outer canal (otitis externa, or “swimmer’s ear”) are caused by:
- Bacterial or fungal overgrowth in the ear canal that results from moisture mixing with the earwax and debris in the ear canal
- Moisture may enter the ear from swimming, diving, or even bathing and showering
- Overuse of cotton swabs in the ear canal
Ear infections in the middle ear (otitis media) are caused by:
- Common bacterial causes of middle ear infections are Streptococcus pneumoniae (also called pneumococcus), Haemophilus influenzae, and Moraxella catarrhalis
- Common viral causes of middle ear infections are respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and flu (influenza) virus
- Fluid from the sinuses can back up through the Eustachian tubes that connect the throat to the middle ear, such as when the sinuses or throat are inflamed from infection (from a cold, sinusitis, or an allergy attack)
- The backed-up fluid becomes trapped in the middle ear, which is a good breeding ground for bacteria and viruses
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