An ear infection occurs when a bacterial or viral infection affects the ear. Ear infections can be painful because of inflammation and fluid buildup in the middle ear. Ear infections can be chronic or acute. Acute ear infections are painful but short in duration. Chronic ear infections either don’t clear up or recur many times. Chronic ear infections can cause permanent damage ear.
Ear infections occur most commonly in young children because they have short and narrow eustachian tubes. Infants who are bottle-fed also have a higher incidence than their breastfed counterparts.
An ear infection occurs mostly when eustachian tubes becomes swollen or blocked, causing fluid to build up in your middle ear. Eustachian tubes are small tubes that run from each ear directly to the back of the throat.
Causes of eustachian tube blockage include:
- Common cold
- Sinus infections
- Throat infections
- Infected or swollen adenoids
- Changes in air pressure
Common symptoms include:
- Mild pain or discomfort inside the ear
- Feeling of pressure inside the ear that persists
- Ear discharge
- Hearing loss
These symptoms might persist or come and go. Symptoms may occur in one or both ears. Pain is usually more severe with infection in both ears. Chronic infection symptoms may be less noticeable than those of acute.
Most mild ear infections resolve without intervention.
Some of the following methods are effective in relieving the symptoms of an ear infection:
- Apply a warm cloth to the affected ear.
- Take over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
- Use OTC or prescription ear drops to relieve pain.
- Take OTC decongestants such as pseudoephedrine.
If your symptoms get worse or don’t improve, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. They may prescribe antibiotics if your ear infection is chronic or doesn’t appear to be improving.
Surgery may be an option if your infection isn’t eliminated with the usual medical treatments. Most often, tubes are placed in the ears to allow fluid to drain out.