Ear infections occur when a cold, throat infection, or allergy attack causes fluid to become trapped in the middle ear. Mostly affecting children, symptoms may include earaches and thick, yellow fluid coming from the ears. Ear infections may be more common in children than in adults, but grown-ups are still susceptible to these infections. Unlike childhood ear infections, which are often minor and pass quickly, adult ear infections are frequently signs of a more serious health problem. Ear infections are often caused by bacterial infections. But whether you get an outer or middle ear infection depends on how you become infected.
There are three main types of ear infections. They correspond to the three main parts of the ear: inner, middle and outer.
A condition diagnosed as an inner ear infection may actually be a case of inflammation, and not an actual infection. In addition to ear pain, symptoms include dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Inner ear trouble may be a sign of a more serious condition, such as meningitis.
A middle ear infection is also known as otitis media. It’s caused by fluid trapped behind the eardrum, which causes the eardrum to bulge. Along with an earache, you may sense fullness in your ear and have some fluid drainage from the affected ear. Otitis media can come with a fever. You may also have trouble hearing until the infection starts to clear.
An outer ear infection is also known as otitis externa. An outer ear infection often starts as an itchy rash. The ear may become painful, tender, red and/or swollen.
You may be prescribed antibiotics. Some antibiotics may be taken orally. Others can be applied directly to the site of the infection with ear drops. Medications for pain, such as over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs may also be used to manage your symptoms.
If you’re still experiencing cold or allergy symptoms, you may be advised to take a decongestant, nasal steroids, or an antihistamine.
Another helpful technique is called autoinsufflation. It’s meant to help clear your eustachian tubes. You do this by squeezing your nose, closing your mouth and very gently exhaling. This can send air through the eustachian tubes to help drain them.