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Ear Infection Symptoms & Causes

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What is an ear infection?

An ear infection can occur in the middle, inner, or outer ear and is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. The most common type of ear infection occurs in the middle ear, which is the small pocket of air located directly behind your eardrum. Another type of ear infection, called an inner ear infection, occurs further inside the ear—just past the middle ear. Outer ear infections, sometimes called swimmer’s ear, affect the outside, visible portion of the ear.

Middle ear infections cause inflammation, fluid, and pain in the ear. They are categorized according to their severity:

  • Acute ear infection
    • Painful
    • Short
    • Usually clear up with no damage to the ear
  • Chronic ear infection
    • Painful
    • Long-term or recurring
    • Can cause permanent damage to the ear

What causes ear infections?

Ear infections are caused when the eustachian tube, or passage between your middle ear and throat, are blocked and unable to keep germs from entering the middle ear. Ear infections are usually a secondary condition caused by one of the below conditions:

  • Allergies
  • Cold
  • Sinus infection
  • Swollen or infected adenoids
  • Smoking
  • Excessive mucus (runny nose)

What are some ear infection symptoms?

Symptoms of middle and inner ear infection in adults may include:

  • Ear pain
  • Fluid draining from ear
  • Loss of hearing / difficulty hearing

Children suffering from an ear infection may exhibit the following symptoms, in addition to those listed above:

  • Ear pain when sleeping or lying down
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of balance
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tugging on ear
  • Late response to noises or speaking

When should I see a doctor?

Consult an ear, nose and throat expert with New York ENT as soon as possible if:

  • Any of the above listed conditions that persist for longer than 24 hours
  • Bloody discharge from the ear is present
  • Ear pain is severe
  • A child is suffering from irritation or restlessness following a cold
  • A child has symptoms listed above and is under 6 months of age

What are the risk factors for an ear infection?

There are some conditions that make a child or adult more prone to getting an ear infection. Some risk factors include:

  • Recent illness, especially cold or sinus-related illnesses
  • Climate changes
  • Altitude changes
  • Smoking or second-hand smoke
  • Use of bottles or pacifiers
  • Age (young children have less developed eustachian tubes)

How is an ear infection diagnosed?

As soon as symptoms are present in an adult or child, consult with an New York ENT to evaluate your conditions and make an accurate diagnosis. Your doctor will use a tool called an otoscope that can see deep inside your ear with a light and magnifying glass. Doctors can often detect redness, puss, drainage, or other abnormalities in the middle ear that point to an ear infection. To determine the severity of the condition, your New York ENT may also conduct sample fluid tests, computed tomography (CT) scans, or hearing tests.

How is an ear infection treated?

Ear infection treatment from New York ENT can range from conservative measures at home to prescription drugs or surgery, depending on the severity of the infection. Treatment options for ear infections include:

  • Cleaning the outer ear with a warm, wet cloth
  • Prescription decongestants or antibiotics, including ear drops and oral medication

If you are suffering from an ear infection, the first step towards feeling better is to schedule an evaluation with an experienced ear, nose and throat doctor. Board certified physicians with New York ENT have extensive experience diagnosing and treating a wide variety of ear-related conditions. Fill out the form on this page or call our office at (212) 873-6168 to schedule an appointment today.

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