What are the Signs of Ear Infection?

The most common signs of ear infection are pain inside the ear, difficulty hearing, ear drainage, and fever. Some other signs of ear infection that are less common are nausea, vomiting, loss of balance, irritability, and ringing or popping in the ears. Babies and toddlers that develop ear infections will often pull or rub on their ears. Most people begin experiencing ear infection symptoms a few days to a week after the onset of a cold or sinus infection.

In general, ear infections are caused by either bacteria or some type of virus. Catching an ear infection from another person is not possible, but a virus caught from someone else could lead to one. The Eustachian tubes located inside the ears help air circulation, which prevents germs and bacteria from entering the middle ear. If a person has a cold or other type of illness that causes fluid to build up inside these tubes, they can become blocked. When this happens, germs and bacteria build up inside the tubes and the middle ear becomes infected.


Children under the age of two are at the highest risk for developing ear infections. This is because the Eustachian tubes in toddlers and babies are very small and not fully developed. It is much easier for bacteria to accumulate inside their Eustachian tubes, thereby increasing the risk of ear infection. Young children also do not normally have very developed immune systems, and this leads to greater incidence of catching colds and other illnesses that may lead to ear infections.

A doctor typically diagnoses an ear infection by using an otoscope. An Otoscope is a wand-shaped device with a pointed end that fits easily into the ear opening. There is a light inside the scope that the doctor can use to see inside the ear. A doctor can use this scope to check for redness and infection inside the ears of a patient with signs of ear infection. Doctors normally prescribe antibiotics to treat ear infections, but sometimes the infections clear up on their own without treatment.

Children and adults who frequently have signs of ear infection could suffer from chronic ear infection. If a person is diagnosed with chronic ear infection, an evaluation by an ear, nose, and throat doctor is typically necessary to determine what treatment is needed. In some cases, surgery is required to rebuild the eardrum. Many people, most often children, need to have tubes placed in the ears to aid in proper drainage and reduce the risk of future ear infections.



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