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Ear Infection in Infants, Toddlers, Children, and Adults

Ear infection (middle ear)

Symptoms

The onset of signs and symptoms of ear infection is usually rapid.

Children

Signs and symptoms common in children include:

  • Ear pain, especially when lying down
  • Tugging or pulling at an ear
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Crying more than usual
  • Fussiness
  • Trouble hearing or responding to sounds
  • Loss of balance
  • Fever of 100 F (38 C) or higher
  • Drainage of fluid from the ear
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite

Adults

Common signs and symptoms in adults include:

  • Ear pain
  • Drainage of fluid from the ear
  • Trouble hearing

What causes an ear infection?

An ear infection occurs when one of your eustachian tubes becomes swollen or blocked, causing fluid to build up in your middle ear. Eustachian tubes are small tubes that run from each ear directly to the back of the throat.

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Causes of eustachian tube blockage include:

  • allergies
  • colds
  • sinus infections
  • excess mucus
  • smoking
  • infected or swollen adenoids (tissue near your tonsils that traps harmful bacteria and viruses)
  • changes in air pressure

How are ear infections treated?

Most mild ear infections clear up without intervention. Some of the following methods are effective in relieving the symptoms of a mild ear infection:

  • Apply a warm cloth to the affected ear.
  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Find ibuprofen or acetaminophen online.
  • Use OTC or prescription ear drops to relieve pain.
  • Take OTC decongestants such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed).

If your symptoms get worse or don’t improve, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. They may prescribe antibiotics if your ear infection is chronic or doesn’t appear to be improving.

Surgery may be an option if your ear infection isn’t eliminated with the usual medical treatments or if you have many ear infections over a short period of time.

In cases that involve enlarged adenoids, surgical removal of the adenoids may be necessary.

How can ear infections be prevented?

The following practices may reduce the risk of ear infection:

  • washing your hands often
  • avoiding overly crowded areas
  • forgoing pacifiers with infants and small children
  • breastfeeding infants
  • avoiding secondhand smoke
  • keeping immunizations up-to-date
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