Understanding an ear infection
Ear infections aren’t usually hard to diagnose. Most start with an earache and are often accompanied by a fever. An ear infection is much more common in children than in adults, so if you’re an adult and having ear pain, it’s likely that you have an ear infection or are getting one.
There are 3 main types of ear infections:
- Outer ear: this is commonly called swimmer’s ear and is an infection of the outer opening of the ear and the ear canal that leads to the eardrum.
- Middle ear: also known as otitis media, is the most common type of ear infection and usually the least serious. This is an infection of the air-filled space behind the eardrum that contains the tiny vibrating bones of the ear.
- Inner ear: also known as labyrinthitis, is an inflammation or irritation of the parts of the ear responsible for balance and hearing. This is a rare type of ear infection.
What are common ear infection symptoms?
Symptoms of an outer ear infection in an adult might include redness, swelling, itching, or discharge from the ear.
Symptoms of a middle ear infection include (but are not limited to) earache, a feeling of fullness in the ear or muffled hearing, fever, or warm drainage from the ear canal.
Symptoms of an inner ear infection may include dizziness, nausea/vomiting, or problems with balance or walking.
Symptoms of an ear infection in a non-verbal child can be more challenging. These may include signs of discomfort, such as (but are not limited) tugging at the ear, trouble sleeping, fever, restlessness, changes in appetite, and irritability.
What are common causes?
An outer ear infection often results from exposure to moisture, which is why it’s also known as swimmer’s ear. Fluid trapped in the ear canal can act as a breeding ground for bacteria, which in turn, can lead to an infection.
In your middle ear, the eustachian tubes connect the middle ear to the back of your throat. When these become swollen or blocked, fluid may become trapped in the middle ear behind the eardrum. This fluid can become infected and cause the symptoms of an ear infection
In general, anything that causes sinus congestion can also trigger an ear infection: cold, flu, seasonal allergies, or a sinus infection. In addition, viral infections usually affect the inner ear, and while unpleasant, the symptoms usually clear up on their own. There’s a variety of bacterial infections that can cause ear infections, and if you have a fever or see fluid draining from your ears, you should see a clinician to understand whether antibiotics are necessary to help clear things up.
A tip about cotton swabs
Ear wax protects your ear canal from bacteria and should work its way out of your ear naturally. Using cotton swabs to clean out the wax leaves your ear canal more prone to infection. It’s always a bad idea to insert an object into your ear canal, which may introduce bacteria into your ear or damage your eardrum.
Some ear infections clear up on their own without the need for a prescription. You can treat mild outer and middle ear infections at home, using over-the-counter medication for symptoms like pain and inflammation. Using heat can also provide some pain relief, such as placing a warm washcloth over your bothered ear. Chewing gum can help relieve air pain caused by a change in air pressure. If you have ear pain that is accompanied by a fever or your symptoms persist, stop by your local vybe urgent care for ear infection treatment.