Otitis externa, external otitis, or "swimmer's ear" involves the outer ear and ear canal. In external otitis, the ear hurts when touched or pulled. Otitis media or middle ear infection involves the middle ear. In otitis media, the ear is infected or clogged with fluid behind the ear drum, in the normally air-filled middle-ear space. This very common childhood infection sometimes requires a surgical procedure called "myringotomy and tube insertion". Otitis interna or labyrinthitis involves the inner ear. The inner ear includes sensory organs for balance and hearing. When the inner ear is inflamed, vertigo is a common symptom.
An ear infection (acute otitis media) is most often a bacterial or viral infection that affects the middle ear, the air-filled space behind the eardrum that contains the tiny vibrating bones of the ear. Children are more likely than adults to get ear infections.
Ear infections are often painful because of inflammation and buildup of fluids in the middle ear.
Because ear infections often clear up on their own, treatment often begins with managing pain and monitoring the problem. Ear infection in infants and severe cases in general require antibiotic medications. Long-term problems related to ear infections — persistent fluids in the middle ear, persistent infections or frequent infections — can cause hearing problems and other serious complications.
The onset of signs and symptoms of ear infection is usually rapid.
Signs and symptoms common in children include:
Ear pain, especially when lying down
Tugging or pulling at an ear
Crying more than usual
Acting more irritable than usual
Difficulty hearing or responding to sounds
Loss of balance
Fever of 100 F (38 C) or higher
Drainage of fluid from the ear
Loss of appetite
Common signs and symptoms in adults include:
Drainage of fluid from the ear
When to see a doctor
Signs and symptoms of an ear infection can indicate a number of different conditions. It's important to get an accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment. Call your child's doctor if:
Symptoms last for more than a day
Ear pain is severe
Your infant or toddler is sleepless or irritable after a cold or other upper respiratory infection You observe a discharge of fluid, pus or bloody discharge from the ear An adult with ear pain or discharge should see a doctor as soon as possible.
An ear infection is caused by a bacterium or virus in the middle ear. This infection often results from another illness — cold, flu or allergy — that causes congestion and swelling of the nasal passages, throat and eustachian tubes.
Role of eustachian tubes
The eustachian tubes are a pair of narrow tubes than run from each middle ear to high in the back of the throat, behind the nasal passages. The throat end of the tubes open and close to:
Regulate air pressure in the middle ear
Refresh air in the ear
Drain normal secretions from the middle ear
Swelling, inflammation and mucus in the eustachian tubes from an upper respiratory infection or allergy can block them, causing the accumulation of fluids in the middle ear. A bacterial or viral infection of this fluid is usually what produces the symptoms of an ear infection.
Ear infections are more common in children, in part, because their eustachian tubes are narrower and more horizontal — factors that make them more difficult to drain and more likely to get clogged.
Role of adenoids
Adenoids are two small pads of tissues high in the back of the throat believed to play a role in immune system activity. This function may make them particularly vulnerable to infection and inflammation.
Because adenoids are located near the opening of the eustachian tubes,...