What is an Ear Infection?
An ear infection happens when a bacterial or viral infection affects the middle ear, the area just behind your eardrum. They can be painful due to inflammation and fluid buildup. Ear infections can happen for short periods of time, but some can also last longer, in which case you risk permanent damage to your ear.
Common Causes of Ear Infections
Ear infections occur when the eustachian tubes in your ears become swollen or blocked, which causes fluid buildup. Common causes of eustachian tube blockage include:
- Sinus infection
- Mucus buildup
- Air pressure changes
Other factors that put you at a higher risk of ear infection include:
- Change in altitude
- Change in climate
- Exposure to cigarette smoke
Young children are especially susceptible to ear infections because they have shorter eustachian tubes.
Symptoms of an Ear Infection
If you are suffering from an ear infection, there are a few symptoms you will likely notice. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Pain or discomfort in the ear
- Persistent pressure in the ear
- Unusual drainage from the ear
- Muddled hearing or hearing loss
- Fussiness in infants
Diagnosing an Ear Infection
To diagnose an ear infection, a doctor or nurse will examine your ear with an otoscope which has a light and magnifying glass to assess the inside of your ear. During the examination they may find a number of things which indicate an ear infection such as:
- Pus-like fluid in the middle ear
- Perforated eardrum
- Bulging or collapsed eardrum
- Fluid draining from the middle ear
Most ear infections will clear up without needing to do much. However, there are some methods that may help to speed up your recovery. Here are a few things you can do:
- Apply warm cloth to the ear
- Take an over the counter medicine like Ibuprofen or Tylenol to lessen the pain
- Try over the counter ear drops to relieve pain
- Take an over the counter decongestant
If your symptoms do not get better over time, you may need to get an antibiotic prescription from a doctor.