What is an ear infection?
An ear infection is inflammation of the ear. Most children have at least one ear infection by the time they are 3 years old, but adults can also get ear infections.
What causes ear infections?
Inflammation in the middle ear most often starts after you've had a sore throat, cold or other upper respiratory problem, like the common cold. The infection spreads to the middle ear and causes fluid buildup behind the eardrum.
The most common ear infection symptoms in adults are:
- Ear pain
- Feeling of fullness in the ear
- Fluid draining from the ear(s)
- Hearing loss
These symptoms of an ear infection may look like other conditions or health problems; always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
How is an ear infection diagnosed?
Your physician will review your health history and do a physical exam; your outer ears and eardrums will also be checked using an otoscope. An otoscope is a lighted tool that allows the physician to see inside the ear. A pneumatic otoscope blows a puff of air into the ear to test eardrum movement. Where there is the fluid of infection in the ear, the movement is decreased. Your physician may also do a tympanometry, a test the directs air and sound to the ear. If you have ear infections often, your physician may suggest having a hearing test.
Ear infection treatments
Your physician will figure out the best ear infection treatment based on:
- How old you are
- Your overall health and health history
- How sick you are
- How well you can handle specific medicines, procedures or therapies
- How long the condition is expected to last
- Your opinion or preference
Ear infection treatment may include:
- Pain relievers
- Insertions of small tubes in the eardrum for chronic ear infections