Ear Infection Symptoms

Ear infection symptoms will depend on the region of the ear that is infected, as well as the severity and duration of the infection.

The ear has three regions, outer, middle, and inner. The outer ear consists of the canal leading to the eardrum. The middle ear consists of the eardrum and the cavity and structures behind the eardrum. The inner ear consists of the cochlea and the semicircular canals.

Inner ear infections are typically most disruptive and serious since they may affect the semicircular canals or vestibule which are responsible for regulating the sense of orientation of the body and balance. The cochlea is the organ of hearing and infections in that region may cause hearing loss or abnormalities.

Middle ear infections are the most common region of the ear to become infected and are typically painful infections typically associated with an upper respiratory tract infection such as a cold.

Outer ear infections are also typically painful and may lead to a shrinking of the canal of the ear resulting in loss of hearing and perhaps blockage of the ear canal entirely.

Ear infection symptoms:

Outer Ear Canal Infection (Otitis Externa)

  • pain (sometimes throbbing)
  • ear painful to touch
  • swelling
  • itchiness
  • leaking of pus or blood from the ear canal

Middle Ear Infection (Otitis Media)

  • persistent ear pain (sometimes severe)
  • ringing in the infected ear
  • loss of hearing
  • muffled sound of heart pulse in the ear
  • discharge of pus and/or blood from ear

Inner Ear Infection

  • loss of coordination
  • loss of balance
  • vertigo
  • nausea

Outer ear infections include swimmer’s ear and general bacterial or fungal infections. They are relatively easy to diagnosis and are typically treated with cleaning, antibiotic ear drops, and pain and inflammation relieving drugs.

Middle ear infections often accompany a cold or respiratory tract infection. They are very common in infants and children. Children may be irritable, crying, and/or pulling at their ear suggesting ear pain.

Diagnosis is usually easily made during a physical examination of the ear and is typically treated with pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Antibiotics are usually given only if an infection does not improve after a brief period of time.

Inner ear infections are relatively rare with respect to outer and middle ear infections. However, their symptoms are perhaps the most disruptive. They are typically caused by viral or bacterial infection.

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