An ear infection happens when bacteria or virus infects and affects the middle part of the ear; the sections just behind the eardrum. Ear infections can become painful because of inflammation and buildup of fluid in the middle ear.

Ear infections can also be chronic or acute.

Acute ear infections are painful but do not last long.

Chronic ear infections will either not clear out or may end up recurring over and over. Chronic ear infections can also cause irreversible damage to the middle and inner ear.

What causes ear infections?

An ear infection occurs when one of the Eustachian tubes swell up or get blocked, which causes fluid to build up in the middle ear. Eustachian tubes are tiny tubes that run from each ear directly to the back of the throat.

Causes of eustachian tube blockage could be allergies, cold, sinus, excessive mucus, smoking, infection in the tonsils, or air pressure fluctuations.

The risk factors for ear infections

Ear infections happen mostly in young children as they have shorter and narrower eustachian tubes. Infants who are bottle-fed also have a higher chance of ear infections than breastfed ones.

Other factors that can heighten the risk of developing ear infections are altitude or climate changes, exposure to cigarette smoke, use of a pacifier, recent illnesses or ear infections.

Symptoms of ear infections

A few common symptoms of ear infections can be mild pain or discomfort in the ears, feeling pressure inside the ears that lasts a while, fussiness in young infants, pus from ears and hearing loss.

How are ear infections diagnosed?

A healthcare provider can examine your ears with an otoscope that has a light and magnifying lens. Examination may reveal ear infections.

Additionally, you may also need a hearing test, especially if you’re suffering from chronic ear infections.

How are ear infections treated?

Most mild ear infections will clear up without medical intervention. Some of these methods are effective in relieving the symptoms of mild ear infections

  • Applying a warm cloth over the affected ear.
  • Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications like ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Using OTC or prescription ear drops to relieve pain.
  • Taking OTC decongestants like pseudoephedrine (Sudafed).

In case the symptoms get worse or don’t seem improve, you should book an appointment with an ENT specialist. They could prescribe antibiotics if the infection is chronic or doesn’t seem to be improving

How can ear infections be prevented?

The following practices can reduce the risk of ear infection:

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