How do you know if you have an ear infection?
The onset of an ear infection is often rapid and painful. Children are more likely than adults to get ear infections, but they can strike at any age.
Common ear infection symptoms include:
- Ear pain (especially when lying down)
- Difficulty hearing
- Fluid drainage from the ear
- Tooth or jaw pain (due to the proximity of your mouth to the infected ear)
If you have an infant or toddler who is too young to verbalize their symptoms, the following signs may also indicate an ear infection:
- Tugging or pulling at the ear
- Trouble sleeping
- Crying or fussing more than usual
- Not responding to sounds or noise
- Loss of appetite
What does an ear infection look like?
An infected ear looks red and swollen inside, often with excess fluid in the air-filled space behind the eardrum. However, you won’t be able to see any of this on your own. Only a healthcare provider will be able to tell if you have an ear infection using a specialized tool called an otoscope.
One visible sign that occurs outside your ear is fluid drainage. The fluid may be clear, yellowish, or bloody. If the fluid is bloody, it may be related to a perforated eardrum or an ear canal infection. Ear redness is also very common, especially for children who tug on the infected ear.
What causes ear infections?
An ear infection begins when fluid containing bacteria or viruses gets trapped behind your eardrum. These germs often come from other illnesses that cause swelling and congestion in your nasal passages and throat. Anything from allergies to the flu to the common cold can easily cause an ear infection.
Should I go to urgent care for an ear infection?
Yes! Otherwise, you could put yourself through a lot of unnecessary pain. Ear infections that are left untreated also put your hearing and health at risk. If the infection continues to spread, it could lead to hearing loss, meningitis (an infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord), and other serious concerns.
During your urgent care visit, a clinician will look deep inside your ear to check for three different types of ear infections (outer, middle, and inner ear). You will receive a diagnosis and treatment plan immediately.
Do you need antibiotics for an ear infection?
Some ear infections, particularly middle ear infections, clear up on their own without antibiotics. However, severe ear infections or infections lasting longer than 2-3 days should be checked right away to determine if antibiotics are needed.
Fluid drainage from the ear, especially yellowish or bloody fluid, may also require antibiotic treatment.
How long does an ear infection last?
Ear infections generally improve within the first few days, even without treatment. However, fluid build-up can last 1-2 weeks or longer. If you are prescribed antibiotics, you should begin feeling better after just 2-3 days.
Ear infections aren’t contagious, so you don’t have to worry about spreading your infection in a swimming pool or anywhere else. Still, you should never swim with an active ear infection, even if you’re taking antibiotics. Going underwater can cause painful pressure changes and chlorine and salt can wash away earwax, aggravating your ear even further.
Will an ear infection go away on its own?
Eventually, but there’s no reason to suffer through ear infection symptoms without relief or risk your future health. If you get ear infections frequently, it’s important to find out the underlying cause, so you can treat the problem before permanent damage is done.