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As a frequently occurring problem for children and adults alike, the odds are most of us would have suffered an ear infection at some point – and know full well how painful one can be.

Many ear infection cases resolve themselves without the need for medical intervention. However, with the symptoms being particularly unpleasant at times, you should see a doctor or hearing health specialist if your ear infection lasts longer than a week.

Boots Hearingcare takes a look at some of the crucial information surrounding ear infections, such as symptoms, likely causes, and what treatment you can expect to receive…

Ear infection symptoms

The signs of an ear infection tend to come on quite quickly. One minute your ears may feel fine, the next they hurt to the touch. Identifying symptoms of an ear infection is crucial to ensuring your condition clears up quickly.

The most common ear infection symptoms include:
  • Ear pain (usually inside but sometimes in the exterior ear, too)
  • Swelling and tenderness in and around the affected ear
  • Hearing loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Discharge (typically resembling pus)
  • Pressure or fullness in the affected ear
Any of the above symptoms could indicate an ear infection. Ear infection signs vary from person to person, so it’s always important to be vigilant of how your ears are feeling, particularly if you’ve just recently suffered a cold or other infection.

Ear infection types

Knowing what kind of ear infection you have is the first step to receiving the right treatment.
The three main types of ear infection are:
  • Outer ear (otitis externa): Affecting the part of your ear that’s visible on your head and stopping at the ear canal. Usually caused by bacteria or fungus entering the skin lining.
  • Middle ear (otitis media): Undoubtedly the most common ear infection type, especially in children. Infection or inflammation behind the eardrum is most likely to blame for this condition, which can also bring on fever. Known to develop after colds, so be sure to pay close attention to your hearing health following on from bouts of sickness.
  • Inner ear infection (Labyrinthitis): The rarest ear infection, affecting the inner mechanisms of the ear, which deal with balance and hearing. Viral in origin, this ear infection type can also bring on tinnitus, dizziness, hearing loss and – in extreme cases – nausea and vomiting.
No matter what type of ear infection you have, be sure to get it treated as quickly as possible to avoid unnecessary, unpleasant complications.

Ear infection causes

Ear infections come about due to blockage or swelling in the Eustachian tubes. This causes fluid to build up in your middle ear, resulting in infection.

Common factors that cause blocked Eustachian tubes include:
  • A cold or allergies
  • Sinus infections
  • Excess mucus
  • Smoking
  • Adenoids being swollen or inflamed
  • Air pressure fluctuation
If you feel that any of the above could be contributing to your ear infection, then arrange a visit with your GP immediately.

Ear infection treatment

For an ear infection, treatment varies on a case by case basis. Usually, the site of the infection, its severity and what’s causing it will determine what treatment works best.

Medically, you may be recommended a range of options when it comes to ear infection treatment. These include:
  • Antibiotics
  • Ear drops
  • Painkillers, e.g. paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • Antiemetics (mainly used for treating nausea and sickness brought on by inner ear infections)
There’s every likelihood that your ear infection will resolve itself anywhere between a few days and a couple of weeks. However, if symptoms don’t abate or actually become more aggressive, pay a visit to your GP or a hearing health specialist for professional advice.

Frequently asked questions

Can an ear infection cause a headache?
Headaches are one of the secondary symptoms of an ear infection and usually manifest as mild. However, more severe headaches accompanying ear infections should be looked into by a medical professional with the utmost urgency - especially if they appear in conjunction with a stiff neck and/or blurred vision.
Can an ear infection spread?
Ear infections that don’t respond well to treatment can spread to other areas of the body, such as the mastoid bone – if this happens, balance may become affected as well as hearing, making day-to-day life very difficult indeed.

Ensure your ear infection doesn’t spread by seeking prompt medical treatment for persistent symptoms.
 
What does an ear infection feel like?
Ear infections can be sharp and sudden or come on as a dull, continuous pain. The feeling of plugged ears is also present, and some people may have trouble hearing - an inflamed eardrum is not as sensitive to sound as a healthy one.

f this sounds familiar, book an appointment with your GP or a hearing health professional for a confirmed ear infection diagnosis and treatment plan.
 
Can you fly with an ear infection?
When possible, you should avoid flying with an ear infection. Doing so may cause extreme pain and, in extreme cases, perforation of the eardrum.

​However, if flying cannot be avoided, make sure to consult your GP or a hearing health specialist for advice. They may recommend over-the-counter medicines or other treatments to help ease your journey.
How long does an ear infection last?
Most ear infections affecting middle ear go away within one to two weeks, although complete recovery can take up to a couple of months. It all depends on the severity of the infection and how well your body responds to treatment.
No ear condition should be left untreated, least of all an ear infection. Seeing a doctor or qualified audiologist for advice is your best bet for treating ear infections before they get out of hand.

Do you have an ear infection and need to see someone soon before it gets worse? Book an appointment with Boots Hearingcare now for a local hearing test in your area…