Guide To Ear Infection Warning Signs

July 22, 2023

Ear infections develop when a part of the ear becomes inflamed, normally as a result of a bacterial infection. Although these infections can occur in the outer, middle, and inner sections of the ear, they are most common in the middle ear. Middle ear infections occur more frequently in children than in adults. To evaluate a potential ear infection, a doctor will examine the ear with an otoscope, checking for fluid, redness, and swelling. They might need to lightly pump a small amount of air into the affected ear to see if the eardrum is functioning properly. Some patients might be asked to have a tympanometry study, and hearing tests may also be recommended. If an ear infection is confirmed, antibiotics are normally prescribed, particularly for middle and outer ear infections. Patients might be given prescription ear drops to relieve pain, and the use of over-the-counter pain relievers is often beneficial. In cases where an ear infection is caused or exacerbated by allergies or a cold, individuals might be advised to take an antihistamine, a decongestant, or a nasal spray with steroids.

Some of the most common signs associated with ear infections are discussed below.

Fluid Drainage

Fluid drainage may occur with outer or middle ear infections, and this symptom is generally a sign of an advanced infection that requires prompt medical evaluation. Both children and adults with ear infections can experience fluid drainage. As fluid drains, it can create an uncomfortable sensation of fullness in the ear, and the drainage often means medicated ear drops are unable to reach the infection site. Before beginning treatment, doctors may need to remove some of the fluid so prescribed medications can work as effectively as possible. Any discharge of fluid from the ear, even if it is clear in color, warrants a doctor's assessment. In particular, patients should seek prompt medical care if the discharge contains blood or pus.

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Ear Pain

Adults and children with ear infections typically experience ear pain. While adults can easily let others, including a doctor, know the details about their ear pain, children may not be able to do the same. Children who are experiencing ear pain and are too young to verbalize this may pull on the affected ear, and parents might observe the child is particularly fussy. The child will often cry more than they normally do, and they could have disrupted sleep. Generally, a child's ear pain from an infection will be more severe when they are lying down. Parents should call their child's pediatrician if ear pain or other potential ear infection symptoms last for more than twenty-four hours. A pediatrician should also be informed if any ear infection symptoms develop in children under six months old, even if these symptoms last for less than twenty-four hours. Adults experiencing ear pain that is troubling or severe should also see a doctor promptly.

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Issues With Hearing

Issues with hearing are observed in all types of ear infections. Adult patients may notice sounds seem muffled, and they may even notice a temporary loss of hearing in the affected ear. In children who are having issues with hearing, parents might observe the child is slower than usual in responding to sounds. Doctors who suspect a patient with an ear infection is experiencing hearing changes will order a hearing test to determine how well their ears are functioning. Hearing difficulties often get worse with repeated ear infections, and some patients who have had multiple infections may need to have a surgical procedure to place tubes in the ear. These tubes will help drain excess fluid and reduce the patient's risk for permanent hearing damage. After an ear infection heals, patients may need to have further hearing tests to check whether their hearing has returned to normal.

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Loss of Balance

Patients of all ages may experience a loss of balance due to ear infections. The vestibular system, a part of the body that controls balance, spatial orientation, and movements of the head and eyes, is located in the inner ear. The fluid that pushes against the inner ear during an ear infection usually causes an impairment in the functioning of the vestibular system. As a result, patients could find they stumble while walking, and they may be more at risk for falls. It might also be harder to engage in sports or other fitness activities while dealing with an ear infection. If balance difficulties are present, individuals may need to use handrails while walking up and down stairs, and they should be especially careful while carrying items or cooking. Patients who seek medical treatment for an ear infection should mention any changes in balance to their doctor. They might want to perform a gait assessment or neurological evaluation to rule out other potential causes of balance issues. If a patient continues to have balance issues after completing treatment for an ear infection, they should return to the clinic for an additional assessment.

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Fever And Headache

Fever and headache symptoms are most common in cases of middle ear infections. In children, the fever associated with this condition could reach as high as one hundred degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Patients who have a fever need to check their temperature once every one to two hours at home, and keeping a chart of the readings could be useful to doctors. Children under six months old who have a fever should be seen by a physician, and children over six months old with a fever of more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit also need to be examined. Regardless of the temperature reading, a child who has a fever that persists for more than forty-eight hours should have an appointment with a healthcare provider. Adults with a fever of at least 103 degrees Fahrenheit that lasts longer than forty-eight hours should also have a medical evaluation. Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be used to relieve both fevers and headaches; these should be used after checking with a doctor.

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