Acute Care Information and Resources

Ear Infections

Ear Infections are infections of the inner, middle, or outer ear. The most common varieties, Otitis Media and Acute Otitis Media (AOM) are middle ear infections that result from fluid build-up or bacteria. Swimmer’s ear is also a common middle ear infection due to water containing bacteria sources.[1]

Common Symptoms: Ear infection symptoms can vary based on a person’s age. Children are more likely to contract ear infections than adults, as their symptoms range from ear pain, trouble lying on one side, pulling on the ear, difficulty hearing, loss of balance, fluid drainage or pus leaking from the ear canal, possible fever, headache, and/or loss of appetite.[2] Adults experience similar symptoms that may also include ringing in the ears, crust in the ears, or slight bleeding. Pain from an ear infection can also extend down to the jaw or throat, particularly on one side. Outer ear infections that occur outside of the ear canal (otitis externa) may cause redness, pain, irritation, inflammation, swelling, rashes, and bumps.

Causes: Ear infections occur when a virus or strain of bacteria has entered the ear, particularly the middle ear. This can be a result of viral transmission during the cold and flu season. Streptococcus pneumonia bacteria is a common cause of ear infections, however seasonal allergies, secondhand smoke, air pollution, injury to the ear, objects being placed in the ear, and water containing bacteria flowing into the ear canal are also common causes.[3]

 Treatment: Most ear infections clear up on their own within a few days. Pain management and using warm compresses may help ease symptoms. If an ear infection worsens or is accompanied by vomiting, dizziness, bleeding, fever, or loss of hearing, urgent medical care may be needed as these symptoms could be a sign of a more serious condition such as meningitis.[4] A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection. It may also be helpful to use antihistamines and decongestants if an ear infection appears to be allergy related.