The presence and growth of bacteria or viruses in the ear can cause an ear infection (otis media), which results in fluid buildup behind the eardrum. Ear infections often occur after someone has a cold or upper respiratory infection. While adults can suffer from ear infections, children are generally more susceptible, and according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NICDC), by the age of three, five out of six children will suffer from at least one ear infection.
Types and Symptoms of Ear Infections
Ear infections can occur in the middle ear, inner ear or outer ear.
- Otitis Media is an infection of the middle ear, often caused by germs that get trapped in the tubes connecting the ear and throat. Fluid buildup can develop if the tubes become blocked, resulting in an earache and sometimes fever.
- Otitis Externa (also known as swimmer's ear) is an inflammation and infection of the ear canal or outer ear. It may develop when water, dirt, sand or other debris enters the ear canal. The ear canal may appear red and swollen, and tenderness is present when the outside of the ear is gently pulled up and back.
- Labyrinthitis is an inflammation in the inner ear that may cause sudden vertigo. It can also cause temporary hearing loss or ringing in the ears.
The following symptoms are often reported when a patient is suffering from an ear infection:
- The urge to tug or pull at the ear
- Fussiness in children and/or extended crying
- Having trouble sleeping
- Fever, especially in children
- Fluid that is draining from the ear
- Issues with balance
- Problems associated with hearing
It is important to see a specialist, especially if repeated ear infections occur, because they can lead to more serious complications.