Common Ear Infections and Treatments

Ear infections are common in both children and adults. In childhood, they arise often and usually clear up quickly. In adults, they may be more severe and could be a sign of an underlying health issue.

There are three main types of ear infections, which correspond to the three main parts of the ear:

* Inner Ear
* Middle Ear
* Outer Ear

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Signs of infection include:

* Dizziness
* Nausea
* Vomiting

It is important to pay attention to these symptoms because inner ear issues could be a sign of a more serious medical condition, such as meningitis.

Middle Ear Infection

The middle ear is the area right behind your eardrum. Middle ear infections, known as otitis media, is caused by fluid trapped behind the eardrum. This causes the eardrum to bulge, resulting in pain, a feeling of fullness, and possibly fluid leaking from the ear. The person may also have a fever and experience hearing loss.

Outer Ear Infection

The outer ear extends from your eardrum to the outside of your ear canal, and the surrounding ear. It is known as otitis externa. An outer ear infection often starts as an itchy rash and other symptoms can soon appear, including:

* Pain
* Tenderness
* Redness
* Swelling

The Causes of Ear Infections

Ear infections are often caused by bacteria, but there are other ways to get infected. For example, a middle ear infection often stems from a cold or breathing issues which prevent the ears from draining properly.

An outer ear infection is often referred to as swimmer’s ear because it starts due to water that remains in your ear after swimming, bathing or showering. The dampness becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. If you then scratch your ear to the point where you damage the lining, the bacteria can flourish.


The type of ear infection you have will determine the type of treatment you need. In most cases, a course of antibiotics should clear up the infection. You will need to see a doctor to have your ears examined, and get prescriptions and other treatment suggestions as needed.

Middle ear infections can be treated with oral antibiotics, or eardrops containing antibiotics. It is important to use them exactly as directed. You might also need pain relief, such as acetaminophen. If you are still struggling with a cold or the flu, cold medicine or a shot of Tamiflu can help relieve symptoms.

If you have a cold or seasonal allergies, a decongestant and/or antihistamine can help relieve the fluid build-up and pressure. In some cases, the doctor might recommend nasal steroids.

You can also try a technique called autoinsufflation, which can help clear your middle ear and the Eustachian tubes in them. Squeeze your nostrils shut gently. Close your mouth, then try to exhale slowly. This will send air through your Eustachian tubes, which will help drain them.

Treating Outer Ear Infections

Outer ears should be cleaned, but not to excess. Earwax is actually useful for protecting the ear. Use a cotton bud gently. Don’t dig in or go into the ear canal. Creams can be applied to treat inflammation and kill bacteria. If the infection is caused by a virus, avoid irritating the outer ear and it should resolve itself.