Symptoms of an ear infection
Symptoms in adults can come on quite quickly and can include any of the following, depending on where the ear infection is:
Inflammation and pain in the ear
Tender to touch
Feeling or being sick
Feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear
Pus-like discharge from the ear
High temperature or fever
Causes of an ear infection
Eustachian tubes are the small tubes that go from each ear to the back of the throat. They’re responsible for allowing air to flow into the middle ear cavity, as well as removing any fluid or debris that can accumulate in the middle ear. When these tubes become blocked or swollen, it can lead to a fluid build-up in the area behind the eardrum (middle ear).
This can happen after you’ve had a cold, or can be due to bacteria or a virus that has made its way into these tubes. Allergies and sinus infections can also cause the Eustachian tubes to swell.
Types of ear infection
It’s important to know which type of ear infection you have so that you can seek out the right treatment. Some ear infections can lead to further problems. Your GP will be able to advise you on the type you have, but here are the main types of ear infections.
Outer ear infection
The outer ear is the part that is visible on your head and stops at your eardrum. An outer ear infection is inflammation of the the skin lining your ear canal. This type is usually due to a bacterial or fungal infection and is generally picked up from swimming or damage to the skin in the canal. Although occasionally it may be due to a fungus or yeast.
Symptoms of an outer ear infection include:
Mild heairng loss
Middle ear infection
This is probably the most common type of ear infection, particularly in children, and is caused by an infection or inflammation in the part of the ear behind the eardrum. It’s often associated with earache and fever in children.
It is known to develop quite quickly (like after a cold) and usually resolves itself without any need for treatment.
Inner ear infection
This type of ear infection is rare and affects the intricate, inner structures of the ear involved in hearing and balance. This infection or inflammation is commonly caused by a virus.
People tend to experience dizziness, problems with balance, Tinnitus, nausea and vomiting, hearing loss to one ear, fullness in the ear and sometimes a fever.
If you experience hearing loss to one ear, we recommend that you visit your local A&E department.
Treatment for ear infections
Treatments options will vary according to where in the ear the infection is, what’s causing it, and then extent of the infection. Generally, your GP might prescribe any of the following:
Pain relief medication
Anti-sickness tablets (if you have an inner ear infection)
Most cases of ear infections tend to resolve on their own after three days, but if your symptoms don’t get better after a few days, you should visit your GP.
How long will an ear infection take to clear up?
The time it takes for an infection to clear will depend on the type and extent of the ear infection you have.
Typically, it can take between two days to a week to resolve, with more severe cases lasting for several weeks.
Prevention of ear infections
There are a few things you can do to reduce you chance of getting an ear infection, although it’s important to note that you can’t always prevent them.
Make sure you’re up-to-date with your vaccinations
Don’t try to clean your ears with your fingers or using cotton buds
Make sure you dry your ears after a shower or going swimming
Try to cover your ears when you go swimming (with a swimming cap, or using ear plugs)
Avoid exposure to smoky environments
Depending on the type of ear infection you have, they can last anywhere between a couple of days to a couple of months.
Yes. In many cases, certain ear infections will clear by themselves, with no need for treatment.
Ask your pharmacist about over-the-counter medications that can help you. You could also try using painkillers to ease any pain you experience, using warm or cold compresses over the ear, and gently cleaning away any discharge from the outside of the ear. Make sure you don’t try to clean inside your ear.
Seek advice from your GP or pharmacist for advice on the best treatment for you.
Its appearance can vary depending on what type of ear infection you have, but generally, in an outer ear infection the ear will appear red in colour, the canal may have swollen shut and discharge maybe visible from the entrance of the canal. Internally, the canal will be very red and have a white/yellowish discharge present.
Inner ear infection symptoms can include: dizziness, problems with balance, ear pain, feeling or being sick, tinnitus, hearing loss in one ear, a feeling of fulness in the ear and sometimes a fever.