Ear infections are one of the more common types of ear diseases and can affect the outer, middle or inner ear.

If you have ever had an ear infection, you will likely know just how painful an ear infection can be. Alongside the pain and discomfort, an ear infection can also affect your hearing.

Ear infections can be acute, which are usually only short-term but very painful or chronic which can cause permanent damage to the middle ear and can either recur many times or don’t clear up.

What causes an ear infection?

An ear infection can occur due to inflammation or a build-up of fluid in the middle ear. It can also happen when one of your Eustachian tubes, which run from each ear directly to the back of your throat, becomes blocked or swollen or blocked, causing fluid to build up in your middle ear, creating the perfect breeding ground for germs and bacteria.

A Eustachian tube can become blocked as a result of:

  • Head cold
  • Allergies
  • Sinus infection
  • Excess mucus
  • Smoking
  • Changes in air pressure
  • Swollen or infected adenoids

Types of ear infection

There are several types of ear infection, including:


  • Middle ear infection (otitis media): This can occur when either bacteria or a virus causes inflammation behind the eardrum. Most middle ear infections will go away without medication
  • Acute otitis media: This type of ear infection will come on suddenly and includes redness and inflammation inside the ear, behind and around the eardrum
  • Otitis media with effusion: Sometimes fluid and mucous will continue to build-up in the middle ear, even after the initial infection appears to go away. This is known as otitis media with effusion. It can make your ear feel full and affect your hearing
  • Otitis externa: Commonly referred to as swimmer's ear, this type of infection causes the external ear canal to become inflamed which can be made worse by repeated water exposure

What are the symptoms of ear infections?

Some of the most ear infection symptoms are:

  • Pain inside the ear
  • A high temperature
  • Being sick
  • Lethargic
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Discharge out of the ear
  • A feeling of fullness or pressure inside the ear
  • Irritation and itching in and around the ear
  • Flaky skin in and around the ear

How are ear infections treated?

In most cases, relatively mild ear infections will clear up by themselves without the need for any ear infection treatment. However, even a mild ear infection can be uncomfortable and sometimes even painful, but there are simple things you can do to relieve any discomfort you may experience, for example:

  • Put a warm cloth on the affected ear
  • Take an over-the-counter pain relief medication
  • Use over-the-counter or prescribed ear drops

If you find that there’s no change in your symptoms or they get worse, you should see your doctor. They may prescribe a course of antibiotics if they feel your ear infection has gone on too long with no signs of improvement. However, if your ear infection still doesn’t resolve itself or if you have a number of ear infections in a short amount of time, your doctor may recommend surgery to drain the fluid.

How to prevent ear infections

Not all ear infections can be prevented. But there are some things you can do help reduce your risk of an infection in the future:

  • Ensure you treat any conditions affecting your ears such as eczema promptly
  • Never insert anything into your ears such as cotton buds, hair grips or your fingers
  • Always wear earplugs or a swimming hat over your ears whenever you go swimming
  • Wash your hands frequently and try to avoid touching your ears

If you are concerned about your ears or think you may have an ear infection, schedule a consultation with your hearing care professional or doctor for an examination and treatment plan.

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