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Ear infection
  • General

5 symptoms of an ear infection

An ear infection is a common condition, especially in young children. It can be an uncomfortable and painful consequence of the common cold, but it can also be caused by frequent use of earplugs. 

What is an ear infection? 

Anyone who has had an ear infection will know that hurts – a lot. An ear infection can occur in any part of the ear. The most common type of ear infection occurs when the space behind the ear drum (middle ear) or the ear canal becomes infected. 

Middle ear infection 

An infection of the middle ear causes inflammation and a build-up of fluid behind the eardrum. Anyone can develop a middle ear infection but small children are most often affected. Middle ear infections are usually caused by bacteria or viruses that get in your middle ear via the nasopharynx. Many times, a middle ear infection begins after a cold. This causes the eustachian tube in one or both ears to become clogged, preventing proper drainage of mucus, bacteria or viruses. This can cause inflammation. 

Ear canal infection 

Infection of the ear canal is more common in adults than in children. The infection is usually caused by bacteria entering the body via a cut, the use of cotton swabs inside your ear or impacted ear wax. Wireless headphones and earbuds that go directly in your ear can also trap sweat and dirt, creating ideal breeding conditions for bacteria and thus ear canal infections. It is therefore advised to limit the use of wireless headphones and earbuds as much as possible. 

Symptoms of an ear infection 

The symptoms of an ear infection usually start quickly and include: 

  1. Pain inside the ear. 
  2. Difficulty hearing. 
  3. A feeling of pressure or fullness inside the ear. 
  4. Fever. 
  5. Discharge running out of the ear. 

Dizziness, vomiting and a spinning sensation (vertigo) can also be symptoms of an ear infection. This is because the vestibular system, a complex set of fluid-filled channels that contributes to your sense of balance, is located in your inner ear. 

Babies and young children are particularly prone to ear infections. One reason for this lies in the fact that their eustachian tubes are shorter and therefore block more easily. Day-care is also a breeding ground for the germs that can lead to infections. Common signs of an ear infection in small children include pulling at or touching the ears. If they also have trouble sleeping and are fussy and feverish, there is a good chance they have an ear infection. Some children with an ear infection have difficulty hearing or have discharge from the ear. If a baby starts crying when lying down and stops crying when they are picked up, this could also be a sign of an ear infection. 

What to do if you have an ear infection? 

Most ear infections improve without treatment, but they can make you feel miserable. Therefore, it is advisable to see your GP, especially if you think your child may have an ear infection. Do you have a fever and any of the symptoms mentioned above, and are painkillers (paracetamol or ibuprofen) not enough to ease the pain? Your GP or Dokteronline’s registered doctors can easily determine whether you have an ear infection. Some ear infections can be treated with antibiotics or ear drops.