Ear infections are categorized based on where in the ear the infection occurs.
Mild symptoms of ear infections that affect the outer or middle ear that are mild usually clear up 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.
- See a doctor to determine whether an ear infection needs to be treated.
11 Ear Infection Treatments & Home Remedies
Medications such as antibiotics might not be needed for a middle ear infection and a doctor may recommend waiting to see if the infection clears up on its own. Home remedies to clear up symptoms of an ear infection include:
- Drinking fluids
- Applying warm compresses to the ear to help relieve pain
- Over-the-counter (OTC) medications
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain
- Decongestants such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) to ease ear pressure
- Anti-allergy medications
- Over-the-counter ear drops for pain relief
Prescription medications used to treat ear infections include:
What Are Symptoms of an Ear Infection?
Symptoms of an ear infection include:
- Ear pain
- Discharge from the ear (otorrhea)
- Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
- Fullness in the ear
- Itching in the ear
- Hearing loss
- Spinning sensation (vertigo)
Symptoms of an ear infection in children may also include:
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 that can enter the ear enter the ear from swimming, diving, or even bathing and showering that mixes with the earwax and debris in the ear canal
- Overuse of cotton swabs in the ear canal
Ear infections in the middle ear (otitis media) are caused by:
- Streptococcus pneumoniae (also called pneumococcus)
- Haemophilus influenzae
- Moraxella catarrhalis
- Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
- Influenza virus (“the flu”)
- 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 breeding ground for bacteria and viruses
How Is an Ear Infection Diagnosed?
- Ear infections are diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination of the ear an otoscope, an instrument that is a light with a cone at the tip to visualize inside the ear canal, to check for inflammation in the ear canal.
- Tympanometry may also be performed to check for changes in pressure in the middle ear.