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What are the Most Common Middle Ear Infection Symptoms?

By T. Broderick
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are many common middle ear infection symptoms. These symptoms are a result of a bacterial, fungal or viral infection. Different symptoms appear in acute and serious middle ear infections. Small children and infants are most vulnerable to middle ear infections, and as they may be not able to describe their symptoms, doctors observe other signs that indicate the presence of an infection. As middle ear infections can spread throughout the body, visiting one's doctor and beginning treatment as soon as possible is the safest medical option.

Middle ear infection symptoms begin with either a bacterial, fungal or viral infection. No matter the type of infection, fluid builds up behind the tympanic membrane, or eardrum. Pain increases as the infection progresses. In some cases the eardrum ruptures and pus drains into the ear canal. Even if treatment is administered after eardrum rupture, a full recovery and normal hearing is expected for the vast majority of patients.

There are two forms of middle ear infections: acute and serious. The middle ear infection symptoms of the acute type are the typical earache and fever not exceeding 102° F (39° C). Eardrum rupture and bacterial meningitis can develop if the condition is left untreated. Serious middle ear infections occur in newborns and small children. A number of parental factors such as smoking or stopping breast feeding too early can cause an infant's inner ear fluid to become thick; permanent hearing loss can result without treatment.

As infants are unable to speak, they cannot describe their middle ear infection symptoms. This is an issue, as there are many childhood diseases that cause both fever and sleepless nights. Therefore, doctors are trained to look for cues that indicate ear pain. For example, small children experiencing middle ear infection symptoms grab or rub their ear. Being able to spot cues like these allows treatment to begin as soon as possible.

There are many ways to treat middle ear infection symptoms. For pain relief in both children and adults, a doctor may advise over-the-counter painkillers. If the infection is bacterial, a doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotics and have the patient come in for a follow-up exam. A follow-up is essential due to the presence of antibiotic resistance in some strains of bacteria. Treating serious middle ear infections may require surgery to insert a tympanostomy tube through the eardrum; this tube allows for the safe release of built up fluid without affecting hearing ability.

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